Inbound Logistics | May 2022

robots. The ROI for mobile robots is about 1-2 years; fixed automation, it can be 5-10 years. 3 Flexibility. Changing fixed automation can potentially cost more money and time than installation, and may halt the whole production or operation. Mobile robotic systems are more flexible. Even though AGVs need infrastructure support, changing a fleet’s tasks only requires re-arranging markers like QR codes or magnetic tapes, which is easier than re-installing fixed automation. Because AMRs do not need any supporting infrastructure and are even more flexible they are suitable for agile material handling or production lines. And the mobile robotic system occupies less or negligible space in warehouses, enabling a more complex and flexible material flow route. 4 Scalability. Once fixed automation is installed, it is hard to scale its size or capability. But a mobile robot fleet size can be easily scaled enabling companies to cope with demand peaks (e.g., Black Friday) cost-effectively by only scaling the capability during certain times. Although mobile robots can work all day with a few breaks for charging, they are only able to carry a relatively limited load for each task. But fixed automation can continuously transport materials seamlessly. So, in large warehouses, mobile robots may not be as efficient as fixed automation for high-volume material flows. But mobile robots can always be utilized together with fixed automation to optimize warehousing processes.

Here are four reasons why mobile robotics are becom- ing the industrial trend for warehouse automation, according to IDTechEx’s Mobile Robotics in Logistics, Warehousing and Delivery 2022-2042 report. 1 Installation. Fixed automation may take months to install and commission, usually involving building large racks and long conveyors. The installation is always labor-consuming and costly and sometimes is not done by the automation system providers themselves. While some mobile robots such as AGVs are dependent on fixed navigation infrastructure, the additional installation is just to set up laser reflectors, magnetic tapes, inductive wires, and barcodes/QR codes, which is easier and quicker. Hence, the installation time for AGV systems typically takes only 2-6 weeks. For autonomous mobile robotic units, the installation can be even quicker as robots only need to be shown around the facilities and no additional change to the environment is needed. Also, other software initialization can usually be completed remotely or on the cloud. The shorter installation time also causes less impact on daily operations when initializing mobile robotic systems. 2 Cost and ROI. A large amount of up-front capital is required to implement fixed automation. But it takes only one-third that cost for mobile robots. Installing, maintaining, and powering fixed automation also cost more than mobile


Mobile Robots

Fixed Automation

Fixed automation usually takes months to be installed and to commission. The installation is also very labor- consuming.

It usually can take 2 — 6 weeks to install AGV/Cs, For AMRs the installation time can be shorter.


A large amount of up-front capital is required to implement fixed automation. Installation, maintenance and powering also cost more. But final return on investment will be higher in the long term. The fixed automation allows continuous material transportation, but the capacity of mobile robots is highly restricted with the size of fleet. So the efficiency of fixed automation should be much higher.

The overall cost of implementing mobile robots should be much less than that of fixed automation. And the maintenance and operation cost should be lower.


The productivity per day should be much higher than manual operation. But the efficiency is not comparable to that of fixed automation.


Mobile robotic systems are much more flexible than fixed automation. Even though AGV/Cs need the support of infrastructure, changing of the infrastructure is much easier than re-installing fixed automation.

Usually not flexible. Changing the configuration can cost more money and time.


Once the fixed automation is installed, it is hard to scale the size or capacity.


The fleet size can be easily scaled up and down.

Source: IDTechEx, Mobile Robotics in Logistics, Warehousing and Delivery 2022-2042

May 2022 • Inbound Logistics 93

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