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Robotic Agility: Two Ways Flexible Automation Boosts Productivity
May 25, 2021
Over the past five years, distribution center (DC) operators have tested a range of next-generation warehousing solutions — piloting technologies that leverage advanced simulation, sensors, vision, mobility, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and connectivity. Many of these projects languished in “pilot purgatory.” Some, however, did not.
In 2020, those forward-looking organizations that implemented flexible automation and robotics found themselves in a far better position to respond and adapt to the unprecedented market changes prompted by COVID-19. They were equipped with warehouse automation technologies that maximized scarce human labor and reallocated workers where needed while maintaining high productivity and accuracy amid rapidly shifting consumer demands.
Putting Robotics to Work
Although 80 percent of today’s DCs still lack automation for most tasks, there are proven use cases for automation and robotics upon which organizations can base their own implementations. For example, scalable, configurable fleets of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are being used to handle the repetitive, tedious and most injury-prone work — allowing human workers to focus on value-added tasks. These include:
- Heavy Load and Pallet Transport – Most facilities use driver-operated forklifts to transport heavy pallet loads. However, pallet conveyance AMRs offer the opportunity to enhance operational safety and reallocate drivers to other assignments. When a pallet is ready to be moved, fleet management software assigns an AMR to pick it up, directing it to the appropriate destination. The robot transports the load through the facility, navigating autonomously and avoiding obstacles. When it arrives at the designated location, the AMR drops off the pallet load, reports assignment completion, and awaits further instructions.
- Returns Processing – Returned items are often sorted and transported to multiple destinations in a typical facility, making fixed automation — such as conveyors — unsuitable. Instead, with mobile robotics, returns can be received and manually sorted into bins on carts. Loaded carts are delivered by a mobile robot to any workstation location where the bins are manually removed for processing. Once the cart is empty, the operator or warehouse execution software (WES) notifies the fleet management system that the cart is ready for re-use.
Robots Mean Business
Recent events have validated that warehouse robotics and automation are critical to successfully responding to unprecedented market changes. Read this On The Move article to discover more ways today’s advanced automation solutions enable you to take advantage of the latest innovations in DC technology.
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