Evolution of Material Movement

Peer Robotics
7 min readMay 13, 2023


Every production line has an array of operations. Some of these are value-added processes, which enhance the value proposition for customers by resulting in higher efficiency, improved quality, or other benefits. But many are also often non-value-added operations that could increase costs, waste time and resources, and reduce overall productivity. In the pursuit of optimizing production lines, manufacturers strive to reduce or eliminate non-value-added tasks wherever and whenever possible.

However, there are some non-value-added processes that are essential and cannot be removed using process optimization techniques and solutions. Material handling is one such operation, with its proper management being key for streamlined internal logistics and overall factory floor efficiency. It involves transporting goods, raw materials, and finished products between the various stages of production and has a direct impact on a manufacturer’s ability to reduce production time, minimize waste, and optimize the resource flow in a factory.

The material movement process has come a long way over time, from the simple trolley to the modern collaborative autonomous mobile robot (AMR) developed by Peer Robotics. Along the way, various technologies have also been developed to help automate the movement of materials through factories and warehouses efficiently. As the manufacturing industry is constantly bombarded with challenges such as labor scarcity, pressure to manufacture locally, and unforeseen disasters, it’s vital to understand the options available to choose the best option and ensure a robust supply chain.

Stage 1: Manual Trolleys and Carts

Currently the most utilized choice for material movement across shop floors, trolleys require human operators to push/pull trolleys from one place to another. They are the oldest and most obvious means of transport for goods within factories and warehouses, seemingly simple enough — at least in the short term.

However, this method is also slow, inefficient, and labor-intensive since it is so physically demanding. Workers often have to push heavily loaded trolleys or carts across long distances, which can cause fatigue and increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), MSDs are one of the most commonly occurring workplace injuries in the USA, and manual material handling is a major contributor. MSD-related costs for manufacturers could range from $15,000 onwards per incident, including medical expenses, worker compensation, and lost wages. Numerous studies across the world have found that pushing and pulling trolleys and carts can cause both physical and mental fatigue, leading to decreased productivity on top of the ergonomic dangers.

While easy to implement, trolleys are an ergonomic risk to employees and lead to wasted movement & non-value-added work; Source: Pexels

In addition to the risk of physical injury, manually moving trolleys is often a non-value-added task. Workers end up spending significant amounts of time merely walking back and forth between storage areas and production lines. There is a lot of wasted movement, as employees often have to return or traverse the factory floor with an empty trolley, which means non-value-added travel time in which an employee could be working on something of higher importance or meaning. All in all, the simplicity and affordability of the manual trolley solution are more than outweighed by the disadvantages they pose to worker safety, lead times, and resource optimization.

Stage 2: Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

Automated — or automatic—guided vehicles, or AGVs, are a type of mobile robot that came into existence in order to automate the task of manual material movement without any human intervention. As the name suggests, AGVs are self-guided in the sense that they use sensors and control systems to navigate and transport material in an internal environment.

The main advantage of this means of automated material movement is that they eliminate the physical and mental fatigue associated with manual trolleys, as well as the recurring wasted time and effort.

However, they can still present a host of limitations and complications that make them difficult to deploy for the average manufacturer. The most challenging aspect is the fact that AGVs require a pre-determined path to follow, such as magnetic tape, wires, or reflectors that must be installed in the flooring or on the walls. This means installing an AGV in your plant could require substantial modifications to your existing infrastructure. Not only is this expensive, demanding of significant downtime, and out of reach for smaller businesses but also this can severely reduce the flexibility of operations since any changes in your production layout will have to constantly factor in the pre-planned paths and physical guidance system of your AGV(s). Basically, an AGV will get most of your material movement done, but often at the cost of flexibility, agility, practicality, and significant investment in maintenance and reprogramming.

Stage 3: Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

More advanced than the AGV, autonomous mobile robots are a newer mobile robotic technology that can operate completely autonomously, i.e. with no physical guidance. They are designed with advanced sensors, cameras, and mapping algorithms to independently navigate through an environment.

Because they do not require pre-planned path planning — unlike AGVs — they are far more flexible and can adapt to changes on the production floor far easier and faster than AGVs.

Yet, most AMRs are still complex and very expensive to adopt, with many hidden challenges. They often require robot programmers to deploy for tasks, so the integration costs can be 2–3x the actual hardware expense. A deployment usually takes at least a few weeks, depending on the complexity of the application. If you need to re-task your AMR for a new application, it’s likely you will need to call in an external robotics engineer again, which means added costs and downtime. Plus, AMRs usually require additional accessories — for example, many existing AMRs in the market don’t even come with a charging station, which one would think is a basic inclusion. This makes them a solution ideal for large manufacturers with additional resources to spare, but not really for small and mid-sized businesses in need of simple, quick, and flexible automation solutions.

Stage 4: Collaborative Autonomous Mobile Robots

While the evolution of material movement halts at stage 3 for most, we realized a few years ago that even AMRs were simply not cutting it in terms of an accessible automation solution for small manufacturers to easily adopt for material movement.

Enter the collaborative autonomous mobile robot or collaborative mobile robot.

Built on the foundation of the standard AMR, our collaborative mobile robot goes a few steps further to ensure collaborative features that make the adoption of robots much quicker and cheaper for small and medium manufacturers. With its unique Person2Peer technology, the Peer collaborative AMR can learn instantly from humans in real time. When a person simply applies force on the robot and guides it along a certain path, this first-of-its-kind technology immediately maps the route it needs to take. Its natural navigation and obstacle avoidance features ensure it can safely maneuver across dynamic internal environments.

It also requires little to no changes in the existing factory floor layout or infrastructure. This brings down deployment time drastically, with simple applications up and running within a single day — unlike the weeks (and sometimes months!) required with other AGVs and AMRs in today’s market. The Person2Peer technology — on top of the simple dashboard — means that even first-time robot users can easily operate these robots. Your front-line workers can be relieved of the monotonous, taxing material movement work and instead be upskilled to handle robots or move on to more meaningful tasks.

The Person2Peer technology allows collaborative mobile robots to instantly learn from humans

This technology allows for not just instant deployment, but also instant redeployment should you need to change your shop floor layout or use your robot for a new application in the future, usually without needing to call in an external engineer or system integrator (depending on how complex the application is).

Our collaborative AMRs are also inclusive of a charging station, are modular, and come with a swappable battery. Together, what’s enabled isn’t just more efficient operations, but also increased flexibility to help even small and mid-sized manufacturers conquer everything from global pandemics to nationwide labor issues.


Material movement has come a long way over the last few decades. When overlooked or implemented incorrectly, these processes can cause major bottlenecks, downtime, and rigid operations.

In a time where there’s increased pressure on the manufacturing industry to churn out high-quality products faster than ever (such as initiatives to promote the reshoring of manufacturing to America and Make in India to promote India as a global manufacturing destination), the importance of investing in the right internal logistics optimization automation solutions cannot be understated.

Choosing the most suitable method to optimize closed-loop scheduling can have a tremendous positive impact on your shop floor, resulting in a host of tangible and intangible benefits. To name a few, the right technology means maximized usage of your factory floor, improved inventory accuracy, flexibility to become more responsive to ever-changing market conditions, and even more optimal use of human resources. Together, this ensures lean manufacturing and agile operations, a robust supply chain, safer working conditions, and — what we all aim for — more value to our customers.