Smart Robots Use Vision, AI to Reduce Supply Chain Challenges

ForwardX designed three visual Autonomous Mobile Robots to improve safety and efficiency during fulfillment, distribution, and manufacturing. The ForwardX robots and associated software suite use IoT technology, computer vision, and machine learning to assist human workers, collect and transfer materials, and determine optimal performance within facilities to meet companies’ changing needs. 

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Image credit: ForwardX

Labor and material shortages have challenged the functionality and efficiency of supply chains. As a result, companies are looking to IoT to reduce costs, meet consumer demands, and integrate data. Nicolas Chee founded Chinese-based ForwardX Robotics in 2016 as an IoT-based smart solution to address several supply chain challenges. 

ForwardX developed three types of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) for use in fulfillment, distribution, and manufacturing. The three AMR series vary in size and functionality. The Flex, Max, and Apex robots use Intel® RealSense™ Technology  to navigate facilities. The AMRs are equipped with LiDAR scanners, depth cameras, and 2D and 3D cameras. 

 

 

The robots also have Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) that measure acceleration, angular motion, and other forces influencing the robots. The robots’ wheel encoders monitor the number of times the wheels rotate. ForwardX’s robots use these IoT features for 360-degree obstacle avoidance and safety, both of which are important in busy warehouses. Optimal routes improve safety and efficiency, allowing companies to reduce errors and costs.

Worker using a ForwardX robot

Image credit: ForwardX

Improving Safety and Efficiency

ForwardX AMRs start at a 661 pound payload with the Flex series; the Max series supports up to a 2,645 pound payload, and the Apex series supports a payload of 3,086 pounds. In addition to different payloads, each AMR series offers unique capabilities. ForwardX’s Flex and Max robots are powered by 8th-generation Intel® Core™ i7 processors. The Flex and Max AMRs were designed to assist employees with fulfillment, distribution, and manufacturing by autonomously navigating warehouse spaces while transferring products. The Flex and Max AMRs can be configured with RFID scanners, printers, and multi-level workspaces to assist with various aspects of the supply chain. 

ForwardX’s Apex AMRs are autonomous forklifts. These AMRs use artificial intelligence algorithms and computer vision to determine the correct angles to safely load and unload product pallets. The Apex AMRs are meant to improve efficiency and worker safety by supplementing human workers during fulfillment, distribution, and manufacturing.

ForwardX partnered with SF Supply Chain China to deploy its robots in various supply chain facilities, some of which are operated by DHL. In the US, Chinese Hiocloud is using ForwardX Max robots to reduce errors and increase productivity in its warehouses.

ForwardX joined the Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance as an Intel® IoT Market Ready Solutions partner and became an Intel® Gold Partner in 2020. 

ForwardX robot carrying products

Image credit: ForwardX

Analyzing Workflow Data

All the AMRs can connect to the f(x) Fleet Manager, a software suite designed by ForwardX. The f(x) Fleet Manager integrates with a company’s existing hardware and software and allows the company to monitor and control its AMRs by assigning tasks to the robots that are observing their activity. The f(x) Fleet Manager also communicates with the AMRs to enable autonomous charging. 

ForwardX uses two systems within its f(x) Fleet Manager: f(x) Plus and f(x) Core. The f(x) Plus system uses machine learning algorithms to collect and analyze workflow data and to optimize the AMRs function and production. 

The f(x) Core system is used to prepare AMRs for different facilities and tasks. It also determines optimal paths and maps for the AMRs, monitors the AMR’s status, and resolves errors when necessary. The two systems communicate with each other. ForwardX aims to increase productivity and efficiency of supply chains using its AMRs and f(x) Fleet Manager. 

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