Even in the face of booming demand, today’s industrial businesses undergo numerous challenges: worker shortages, raw material price increases, increased interest in remote work and physical spacing of employees, and ever-thinning margins amid a highly competitive marketplace.
In the ongoing fight to maintain and increase a competitive edge, facilities are finding it more important than ever to identify ways to boost productivity and efficiency — while continuing to maximize quality and meet or beat deadlines.
Automation robots are one of the most effective tools in this battle, playing a major role in supply chain logistics, particularly in warehouses. Robotics in warehousing are primarily found in inventory and product handling functions, such as pick-and-place, fulfilling some of the most repetitive jobs in the facility while freeing time and resources for human workers to address higher-impact tasks.
WHAT ARE WAREHOUSE AUTOMATION ROBOTS?
Automation robots can fill numerous roles in the warehouse, typically supplementing human workers for the most undesirable tasks — those which are dirty, dull, and dangerous.
Automation robots generally comprise of an articulated arm (with a variable number of joints enabling different axes of motion — usually between three- and six-axis movement), a grabber or picker at the end of the arm (which can be switched for different tasks), a stationary or mobile base, and an interface device (similar to a tablet) to facilitate programming and interaction with workers.
Types of robots for the warehouse include:
- Warehouse picking robots: Pick-and-place robots are among the most common types of automation found in the warehouse. What is a pick-and-place robot? It is any type of robot that is capable of picking up a piece or object from one location and setting it down in another location. Common applications for pick-and-place robots include packing, sorting, order picking, and machine tending (including loading and unloading).
- Goods-to-person robots: These automation robots primarily facilitate order packing, and — as the name implies — are used in close conjunction with human workers. In a typical goods-to-person automation application, robots separately deliver packaging cartons and inventory to a central location staffed by an employee, who places the correct SKUs into the correct containers, which are then ready for fulfillment. These can also be mobile robots that lead employees to designated locations throughout the warehouse to pick inventory for fulfillment.
Other types of automation robots for the warehouse can include maintenance robots, such as those that clean the facility floor between shifts.
BENEFITS OF ROBOTS IN WAREHOUSING
Robotic automation in warehouses offers numerous benefits, with the result being savings in time or money — and usually both.
Specific benefits include:
- Fast, consistent operations for repetitive tasks: Repetitive, high-frequency tasks such as picking and placing objects from one place to another (such as one conveyor to another) can quickly become boring for employees, making it likely that they may lose focus and be more susceptible to errors. Fluctuations in speed and efficiency are also normal and expected in these scenarios. Automating these processes eliminates those concerns, with highly repeatable, consistent movement in every pick-and-place cycle.
- Coverage for undesirable jobs: In addition to repetitive, dull tasks, automation robots are ideally suited to dirty and dangerous jobs. These roles are typically difficult to fill and retain, and may require extensive training. Fulfilling these tasks through automation improves productivity throughout the facility by vastly improving uptime and safety — and, thus, employee morale and satisfaction.
- Around-the-clock, lights-out operation: Once they are programmed, automation robots can run essentially around the clock. They do not need breaks and are capable of third-shift, lights-out operation with minimal oversight. Robots require no sick days or vacation time, boosting productivity even further.
- Collaboration to increase employee productivity: Working in collaboration with employees, robotic logistics and automation can also increase the speed and accuracy of their tasks — whether used in applications such as leading workers to the correct shelf in an inventory area or ensuring that the correct SKU is always next in line to be packaged or assembled.
With the benefits of these types of robots in mind, you are now equipped with a greater sense of how they can help improve your efficiency, productivity, and — above all — bottom line. WSI provides a broad range of innovative 3PL solutions that leverage advanced technology. To learn more, contact WSI today.