The days when robots were seen as competing with humans are long gone. Our “autonomous colleagues” support us in repetitive work and contribute to overcoming the shortage of skilled workers.
The areas of application for AMRs are diverse. Classically, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) were used to autonomously transport goods. Unlike AGVs, however, AMRs do not require markings or a pre-planned infrastructure. AMRs move independently, detect obstacles and find the optimal path, and can thus be used flexibly. In addition to merely transporting goods, AMRs can also support the execution of picking, storage and retrieval processes in a warehouse.
Process integration in SAP EWM
Optimal integration into higher-level SAP EWM (Extended Warehouse Management) is indispensable to embed AMRs into a company’s logistics processes in the best possible way. The division of tasks between AMRs and SAP EWM plays an essential role when defining the processes.
For a man-to-goods order-picking process using an AMR as a cobot (collaborative robot) to transport several order totes for multi-order picking, one solution may be to pre-plan complete warehouse orders (pick orders) in SAP EWM and hand them over to an AMR. The AMR can autonomously execute the complete order-picking process. In this scenario, the AMR itself is responsible for avoiding traffic jam situations in the picking aisles.
Alternatively, such a process can also be mapped under the process authority of the SAP EWM. In this scenario, the AMRs are responsible for transporting order totes, while the order-picking process is carried out online in SAP EWM. The advantages of this are that all the process steps are booked online, exceptions such as inventory differences can be reacted to immediately, and the processes in SAP EWM can be adapted to new requirements.
SAP Warehouse Robotics
SAP Warehouse Robotics is SAP’s integration solution for AMRs in teamwork with SAP EWM. The SAP Warehouse Robotics solution operates on an SAP BTP (Business Technology Platform) in the Cloud. The core tasks of Warehouse Robotics are planning and optimizing the AMRs.
The AMRs can be connected to SAP Warehouse Robotics directly or indirectly via a manufacturer-specific or manufacturer-independent AMR fleet controller:
- With direct connection, SAP Warehouse Robotics communicates with each individual AMR. The AMRs have a computer installed on the device. The task is transferred from SAP Warehouse Robotics to this computer for execution. The AMR performs the task autonomously, regardless of the existing wi-fi or network connection. The use of “K8 (Kubernetes) Edge” allows AMRs from different vendors to be integrated and orchestrated by SAP Warehouse Robotics.
- When using a vendor-specific or vendor-independent fleet manager, it controls a group of AMRs. In this scenario, SAP Warehouse Robotics communicates with the fleet manager, which is responsible for communicating with the individual AMRs. The fleet manager optimizes within the AMRs assigned to it, and selects the most suitable robot to perform a task.
AMR Fleet manager and SAP EWM
A direct connection of a fleet manager to SAP EWM, e.g. via SAP EWM/MFS, is possible as an alternative to integrating AMRs via Warehouse Robotics. With this architecture, optimization and control are the fleet manager’s responsibility. The attractiveness of this solution approach lies in its simple IT architecture.
SAP EWM and AMRs – A Project
Integrating AMRs into an SAP EWM environment must be accurately planned and defined. An in-depth knowledge of the SAP process and its integration is a basic requirement for such concept design work.
No generally valid recommendation for integrating AMRs into an SAP EWM environment can be given. On the contrary, the following must be considered on a project-specific basis:
- Which goals are to be achieved by using AMRs?
- How are the processes to be designed?
- Which AMRs are to be used?
- What should the technical infrastructure look like?
However, one recommendation is to build a prototype with simple processes, as an entry into the use of AMRs. When experience has been gained from the prototype implementation, a rollout to other processes and warehouse areas can then take place step by step.