Smart Robotics Make Distribution Centers Productive and Profitable

Smart Robotics Make Distribution Centers Productive and Profitable

Smart Robotics Make Distribution Centers Productive and Profitable

Now more than ever, smart robotics solutions are up to the task of automating the chaotic, ever-changing environments of distribution centers (DCs). And with labor shortages making it increasingly difficult to meet the rising demands of e-commerce, the timing couldn’t be better.

In the last few weeks, our On The Move webinar series explored how smart automation processes can help your operation push what’s possible, boosting throughput and productivity while making more efficient use of labor. This is an exciting time for warehouse automation because many practical robotic solutions are delivering a competitive edge to leading DC operations right now, often with minimal infrastructural changes.

Robots Are on the Move

One automation trend that’s picking up speed is mobile robotics. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) provide cost-effective automation on-demand. They can be deployed quickly for nearly any workflow — in any facility — with minimal IT or infrastructural changes.

AMRs leverage many of the same technologies developed for self-driving vehicles, including 3D cameras, LiDAR sensors, dynamic obstacle-avoidance technology, plus they have a certified hardware-based safety system. They’re smart enough to avoid people, vehicles, fork truck tines and other obstacles. And they can also navigate and re-route independently and cooperatively within existing warehousing and manufacturing operations.

DCs are deploying AMRs to take on routine transporting tasks like pallet conveying, cross-docking paths, machine tending and replenishment operations. They can also be used to boost the productivity of returns, kitting and other logistics processes by automating rolling cart movement. By taking over these non-productive transport tasks, AMRs effectively become a labor multiplier, enabling greater efficiency for your operation. AMRs can also be combined with order-picking technologies like handheld scanners or voice systems to deliver even greater accuracy and efficiency.

All of these options are easing operational labor pressures and reducing turnover by freeing up scarce workers for higher-value jobs. In addition, many DCs that incorporate mobile robots could significantly reduce forklift injuries.

Automation Cracks Mixed-SKU Depalletizing

With the dramatic expansion of the number of SKUs filtering through DCs and fulfillment centers, mixed-SKU pallets are becoming more common, complicating efforts to automate depalletizing workflows. Until recently, most automated depalletizing was only practical for operations that handled consistently sized cases. Even then, these have typically been alternative technological-based solutions that required specialized expertise or costly third-party solutions to integrate. In addition, aftermarket support for these solutions has historically been limited.

Honeywell Robotics is meeting the challenges of mixed-SKU depalletizing with a fully automated solution, driven by sophisticated machine learning, plus advances in perception and gripping technologies. Compared to manual operations, this solution meets or exceeds throughput — without tiring.

Capable of handling cases as large as a microwave oven down to a small tissue box, robotic mixed-SKU depalletizing has already demonstrated its ability to reduce labor expenses by shifting three to four full-time equivalents (FTEs) per robot out of the depalletizing operation. It also enables better visibility into staffing requirements, helping you to control labor costs even further without sacrificing productivity.

How to Find DC Automation Solutions That Really Work

While automation and robotics offer logical solutions to the challenges faced by many DCs, robotic technology presents a lot of options, often with inadequate direction on how to integrate robotics into your existing system. Worse, many of the solutions that exist today can’t address the unique demands of modern distribution centers. The majority of existing logistics solutions providers fail to meet the market or technical requirements critical to DCs, or lack the infrastructure necessary for full-scale implementation.

To help DCs develop robotic solutions that really work for the logistics industry, Honeywell Robotics has launched a new suite of Robotic Solution Design Services. From robotic cells to full-system designs, tools like simulation, software and feature analysis, prototype designs, system modeling and more can help you to find robotic solutions that meet your unique needs — before you break ground or begin site integration.

Where to Learn More

If you weren’t able to catch the live presentations in this webinar series, or if you missed one of the sessions, the entire series is now available to view on-demand.

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