Long-term distribution and logistical costs are the last frontier for the warehouse industry, according to many experts; however, the introduction of robots to work autonomously alongside workers is transforming the industry.
Robots can handle tasks such as delivery, packing and pick-up and can be used to handle most items in a typical establishment. Fetch and freight used in tandem are also increasingly popular.
Amazon is generally credited with revolutionising the workplace when it purchased Kiva Systems in 2012, triggering an increase in interest in autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).
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The combined process of introducing intelligent robots into the workplace and amending the floorplan and structure to accommodate them can deliver greater productivity and increase the flexibility of the warehouse.
The supply chain, which is currently changing dramatically with the introduction of new technology and an increasingly global reach, means that warehousing is adopting new software to run operations. Robotics mesh perfectly with these changes and are increasingly attractive to warehouse operators. This is hardly surprising, as robots have been increasingly introduced into the manufacturing process. If the items you store are made by robots, why wouldn’t you use them in the storage facility?
The AMRs on the market are increasingly mobile and intelligent and represent a technology far removed from the large fixed robots used in the manufacturing industry. Minimising the size of intelligent robots and improving their navigation skills makes them ideal for the warehouse environment as it becomes increasingly automated; furthermore, they can dramatically reduce costs and improve efficiency.
Examples of these new AMRs include systems that pick and carry items to the workstations, ensuring a seamless flow of goods to workers and emphasising how robots and the workforce can operate together. Robots can also be used to deal with fast-moving small items to ensure they move swiftly to assembly or package departments.
Even single items can be removed from storage bins by the new breed of AMRs, increasing efficiency. Another potential saving involves the introduction of AMRs that can deal with creating mixed pallets.
Analysts believe that robots are set to revolutionise the warehousing industry.