You’ve dipped your toes into robotic automation, hammering out the details of the problems your robots will solve for you and how to deploy them. You probably even have specific machines in mind…but what about keeping those robots moving? 

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) move around almost constantly, so they can’t just be plugged in. Instead, each runs on a battery to perform its work. So how do you go about keeping that battery charged up for uninterrupted productivity on the warehouse floor? Enter opportunity charging and autonomous charging. We’ll discuss the details of each battery solution, highlighting their differences.

What is Opportunity Charging?

You’re using your smart phone all day, and the battery slowly creeps down to 20 percent. Yikes! Time to put the phone on your wireless charging platform for a jolt of power. In practical terms, that’s how opportunity charging for AMRs works, too.

Opportunity charging provides smaller bursts of power to robots throughout the day, as each drives over charging contacts in the warehouse floor to maintain its ability to keep working. Each robot takes itself to be charged as needed, driving over one of the several charging contacts in the warehouse floor. Robots have a few natural breaks in their work, so they use these to replenish energy for new tasks.

Because AMRs drive over charging areas on their own, there’s no human intervention required, leaving workers to focus on more important matters. The robots don’t interrupt themselves to recharge either, only driving over charging contact poles during necessary movement and between tasks.

*Drawback: To charge these batteries, they’re hit with excessively high charge currents (typically 3x the normal rate) to quickly deliver appreciable charge. The high rate of charge stresses the battery, limiting its useful life.

What is Autonomous Charging?

Let’s go back to that smartphone comparison. This time, instead of wirelessly giving your device a burst of power, you plug it into its charging adaptor and give it time to recover. Autonomous battery charging for robots is a bit similar.

Here, each robot stops working to charge its battery to full power (like your phone on an adaptor). The AMR works continuously until the battery falls below a defined threshold (i.e. 20 percent), then drives and docks itself to a charging station. After the complete charging cycle, the robot returns to the floor ready to work.

The drawback to autonomous charging is the downtime when the robot’s work stops for it to recharge.

Hot-Swappable Batteries

Instead of risking battery damage or limiting the robot’s work, reclaim your productivity with a robot equipped with a hot-swappable battery.

IAM Robotics machines Swift™ and Bolt™ use the same base, which integrates manual hot-swappable batteries, letting you command your robot to drive to a battery swap area when its charge is low. There, just one person is needed to quickly and safely remove and exchange the depleted battery without powering down the machine. Hot swappable batteries are usually small, and IAM Robotics machines use batteries that are 3.5 times the normal size for maximum power. So, how do we make hot swapping so easy? Our secret lies in a patented mechanism combined with our 120Ah battery to enable a single person to swap its larger AMR battery. Batteries take less than three minutes to swap, so the robots lose almost no working time before returning to the floor.

*Benefit: Both back up batteries and charging stations are minimal cost burdens, so you can easily provide power to your robot fleet.

The IAM Approach to Robot Battery Charging

So which is the best robot battery charging solution—opportunity charging or autonomous charging? Each organization has unique needs, so we encourage you to weigh both options.

As for IAM Robotics, we’re all in on autonomous charging. The fact is that for us, the burdens of opportunity charging are too great to ignore. Just think of all the infrastructure that goes into opportunity charging, like installing multiple charge points throughout your facility. That’s a massive investment, opposed to a single charge point in autonomous charging applications. Not only that, but AMRs have free-range movement on the warehouse floor, and it’s challenging to map out the best charger placements for machines that are always on the go.

We know that budget and productivity are top priorities for your daily operations. Our machines like Bolt provide hours of labor, with negligible downtime for battery exchange, keeping the warehouse floor active. What’s more, we appreciate convenience as much as you do, so our models include no-touch, self-docking and charging capabilities.

Make Bolt and Autonomous Charging Work for You

Bolt delivers the power to do more, with a hot-swappable battery that can also be autonomously charged. This solution maximizes flexibility for your warehouse operations. The future is at your front door. Contact us today to learn more about Bolt, and download our infographic to learn more about autonomous charging.