Advances in Technology Are Finally Enabling DC Automation

Advances in Technology Are Finally Enabling DC Automation

Robotic applications have historically been easier to implement in environments that call for a limited set of precise actions to be performed repeatedly, such as welding, painting or assembly in manufacturing. Robots were also considered ideal for jobs that were dirty, dull or dangerous. Yet costs were high: both for the robots themselves and the processes needed to upgrade to an automated workflow.

Distribution centers (DCs), conversely, are characterized by constant change. Logistics tasks are unpredictable, inexact and frequently aren’t repeatable, unlike manufacturing processes. For example, one DC could have millions of possible order combinations, or it may have multiple packaging variants in one facility.

DCs also create other unique challenges for automation. Today’s inventories are more massive and diverse than ever before. The ability to give consumers exactly what they want — when they want it — is a huge competitive differentiator for e-commerce. That means robots must quickly adapt to seasonal inventory changes and new product introductions.

Working Smarter With Robotic Intelligence

A new generation of robots — designed specifically for DCs — has been made possible by advances in five key technologies:

  • Sensors and vision — Today’s robots are far more aware of their environments, with new ways to perceive and navigate their surroundings safely.
  • Mobility — Mobile robots offer cost-effective automation on-demand and can be deployed quickly with minimal infrastructural changes.
  • Computing power — Today’s robots have significantly more processing power, enabling superior performance in every robotic aspect, from computer vision to motion and grasp planning.
  • Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) — These two powerful technologies enable robots to perform advanced problem solving on their own while allowing humans to stay in the loop for training operations.
  • Connectivity — By harnessing the power of the cloud, advanced connectivity features provide meaningful performance advantages with fewer operator interventions. Over time, connectivity also helps to identify opportunities for ongoing enhancements.

To learn more about how robotic solutions can be integrated into your DC, download the latest issue of On The Move and check out the article “Robotics Are Taking on More DC Tasks”. You’ll discover the growing number of practical applications robots can automate, plus how to ensure seamless integration when implementing robotic solutions.

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