Robotics Now In Logistics – Speeding Up And Automating Workflows

Posted by Marian

If you can cut your warehouse labor costs by up to 80%, wouldn’t that be amazing? You bet! The rise of robots is happening in logistics and the surge isn’t a surprise because it’s now a necessity in the supply chain.

Why Introduce Robotics in Logistics?

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Robotics engineers have worked hard over the last few decades to mesh new technological developments, like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), with automated robotic technology. Innovative companies that have warehouses in their supply chains love the results that effective automation can bring.

But what allows robots to operate in warehouses autonomously? It’s primarily three things:

  • AI and machine learning
  • Better sensors and response capability
  • Warehouse management software

Artificial intelligence generally refers to a computer’s ability to execute cognitive functions we normally only expect from human minds, such as learning, reasoning, and problem-solving.

Often, AI is divided into two categories for supply chain application: augmentation and automation.

  • Augmentation: AI that assists humans in their day-to-day tasks.
  • Automation: AI that can function without human interference.

When robots were first introduced to the supply chain, we didn’t have the knowledge to allow them to perceive their surroundings. In addition to visual and audial sensors, warehouse robots can be equipped with thermal and haptical sensors as well. Thermal sensors measure ambient temperature on a surface. Haptical sensors allow robots to perceive touch.

When paired with AI and machine learning, the data from those sensors allow robots to make decisions based on input from their surroundings.

Warehouse Management Software

Integrated warehouse management software (WMS) or 3PL system can be the hub of your warehouse operations. Information can flow seamlessly from your sales channels to the order fulfillment system, and then to picking and packing. Accurate data is what keeps things moving without a hitch.

As we mentioned, AI allows robots to make decisions based on data. But incorrect data can result in incorrect decisions.

Robots for Warehouse Management

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Automated Guided Vehicles

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and their smaller cousins, automated guided carts (AGCs), transport inventory around your warehouse. They normally follow magnetic stripes or a track laid in your warehouse.

For those AGVs that don’t follow a track, they have additional safety scanners that allow them to be used with manual vehicles. They’re also loaded with a map of your warehouse and the locations of all inventory.

In addition to saving valuable time that people could use elsewhere, the technology meant people are able to work around the clock. AGVs work nights and weekends at the same cost it takes to operate during the day, which both improved warehouse efficiency and cut costs.

Because of the amazing productivity and cost-saving capabilities of AGVs, the system paid for itself just one year after installation.

Autonomous Mobile Robots

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are like AGVs in that they use sensor technology to deliver inventory around the warehouse. However, unlike AGVs, autonomous mobile robots don’t require a set track or preset route between locations. AMRs understand their environment through the use of computers, onboard sensors, and maps.

These small and nimble robots have the ability to identify the information on each package and sort it precisely. AMRs can move throughout the warehouse because they create their own routes based on the operation needed. They also reroute when necessary and avoid obstacles in their environment. These robots offer efficiency, accuracy, and security during the sorting process.

These robots help to cut down on the redundant process of sorting so that workers can take on more creative and collaborative roles. Humans are sometimes more prone to error when they find the job too boring. Today’s robots, on the other hand, deliver consistent accuracy regardless of the tedious nature of the process. As a result, warehouses enjoy a higher level of inventory accuracy.

Not only do AMRs help with the picking and sorting process, but they can also be used to conduct daily inventory cycle counts.

Aerial Drones

Although the drone delivery idea has yet to take off, drones still have amazing potential for the logistics industry.

Drones can help optimize warehouse inventory processes. The drones’ technology quickly scans locations for automatized inventory. They can connect automatically to your WMS (if your system can integrate) to access your existing inventory information.

Aerial drones don’t need markers or lasers for guidance.  They use optical systems alongside deep learning technologies and computer vision to navigate warehouses. They also don’t take up valuable space in your warehouse and aren’t likely to get in the way of people or other robotic devices.

Drones can travel quickly to hard-to-reach and dangerous places. They can scan inventory both high and low much faster than a person and keep the most accurate count upload immediately to your warehouse inventory management software.

Most of the drones today are augmentation robots, controlled by their operator on mobile devices. However, the goal is aerial drone technology that’s more autonomous, requiring little to no human assistance.

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) are a technology that brings inventory in and out of storage. It’s typically paired with warehouse execution software that directs the operations.

AS/RSs come in different forms depending on the type of tasks, the system needed, or the goods that it will be working with. They work either as a shuttle that works on a fixed track or a crane that retrieves goods between aisles.

Order picking can account for 50% or more of your warehouse labor costs, especially for large warehouses. By cutting down on the labor and time spent on retrieval, workers can concentrate on the more complicated processes, such as packaging and posting goods.

Brilliant Ideas Need Execution!

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So, should you add robots to your logistics operations? It’s not just an incredibly brilliant idea that can speed up your processes but it will help you reach your ROI at a faster rate. Strategically adding robots to your operation means that you can increase your profits, make your customers happy, and create a safe work environment. The question is not whether your warehouse needs robotic technology, but where to start. The biggest movement here is to get started on this route, small steps to the future make the world of difference for customers’ satisfaction and experience.

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