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Supply Chain News: New Challenge in Rolling Out Warehouse Robots – Bandwidth



Companies May not be Ready for Mobile Robots, as 5G Presents an Alternative to Wi-Fi

Oct. 10, 2023


SCDigest Editorial Staff

Interest in warehouse automation of all sorts and especially autonomous mobile robots (AMRS) is very high, driven by labor shortages in most markets and for AMRs by very flexible and scalable deployment options.

But robot adopters are often finding implementation obstacle – getting enough bandwidth from WIFI cellular connections to be able to interact with and direct the mobile robots as they do their jobs.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Some companies may just not be ready to roll out 5G. In addition, not all warehouse automation technology on the market is able to run off 5G, with robots built to work with Wi-Fi often need to be adapted to 5G.

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For some, existing wireless networks that support traditional wireless terminal usage (RF) are not robust enough to support the big jump in data required for a fleet of mobile robots.

Others are paper-based warehouses not currently using RF that must create typically a Wi-Fi network in the warehouse needed to enable the AMRs to work, which typically means sending work requirements such as a pallet move or order pick and then getting confirmations back as the work is complete.

The robot system must also maintain a GDS system so that it knows where each mobile robot is at all times.

Of course, the AMRs must also be able to communicate relative to exceptions or other issues, typically interacting with a Warehouse Management System (WMS).

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted this bandwidth challenge as well.

For some companies, the deployment of AMRs “can mean expensive and time-consuming upgrades to get logistics sites up to speed,” the Journal notes.

Improving a warehouse’s internet performance can be as simple as asking the internet service provider to increase the bandwidth, or as hard and expensive as installing fiber-optic cable lines, antennas and server rooms, the Journal article notes.

In many cases, the article says, companies frequently have already determined their overall approach and AMR vendor before this issue is even really looked at.

Location of a warehouse site can also be an issue. Facilities in some more rural areas lack local Wi-Fi infrastructure that make it tough to achieve needed performance. Conversely, some in urban areas may face challenges relative to heavy demands on the power grid.

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Moving away from Wi-Fi is one potential approach.

The Journal says some companies are installing private networks that run on high-speed 5G wireless cellular technology. 5G can often provide faster and more stable internet than traditional Wi-Fi networks.

About 45% of transportation executives and 35% of manufacturing executives surveyed by research firm Gartner last year said they planned to invest in 5G in the next 24 months, but that’s across many applications.

5G networks can provide a steadier connection than Wi-Fi for large buildings and for autonomous vehicles, particularly in remote locations. 5G can also deliver a strong, secure internet connection that can keep mobile robots in operation even if bad weather causes lost power at a facility or at a warehouse that is targeted in a cyberattack.

But there are issues here too. Some companies may just not be ready to roll out 5G. In addition, not all warehouse automation technology on the market is able to run off 5G, with robots built to work with Wi-Fi often need to be adapted to 5G.

The bottom line: This is a major issue with AMRs that needs to be addressed early in the process.

Do you have any thoughts on AMRs on bandwidth? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below (email) or in the Feedback section.




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