Warehouses struggle with a number of costly issues that can prevent them from achieving their true potential. Warehouses face the need to improve productivity and efficiency, while reducing costs, however increasing speed and reducing time spent on tasks can be difficult or even dangerous in a fully-staffed warehouse.
Warehouse automation technology can solve these problems. By automating picking and transportation processes, employees can solve the issues robots cannot tackle, like planning and management. Robotics can be scaled up and down as time progresses. If your business needs to increase speed and accuracy, integrated robotics and automation can handle the extra workload without creating an unsafe workplace.
Why Automative Warehouses
Artificial Intelligence in Your Warehouse
Robotics engineers have worked hard over the last few decades to mesh new technological developments, like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), with automated robotic technology. Innovative companies that have warehouses in their supply chains love the results that effective automation can bring.
But what allows robots to operate in warehouses autonomously?
It’s primarily three things:
AI and machine learning
Better sensors and response capability
Warehouse management software
Often, AI is divided into two categories for supply chain application: augmentation and automation.
Augmentation: AI that assists humans in their day-to-day tasks.
Automation: AI that can function without human interference.
4 Reasons to Love Automation
Better Health & Safety
Increased productivity and lower error rates means increased business.
According to McKinsey & Co, the transportation and logistics industry stands to gain 89% incremental value over time through AI adoption. Retail could see 87% incremental value over time. So no matter how you analyze it, your business can benefit from AI adoption.
Artificial intelligence generally refers to a computer’s ability to execute cognitive functions we normally only expect from human minds, such as learning, reasoning, and problem-solving.
Robotics also improve safety for workers. They take over the dangerous jobs that put your workers at risk. Now that robots can work side-by-side with humans, the robots can take the dangerous parts of the job and workers take over the rest, such as getting inventory from heights or carrying heavy loads.
In addition to warehouse safety, workers (and companies) benefit from an increase in morale as the mundane and dangerous jobs are taken off their plate. Many workers have a reduction in anxiety and stress when robots take over the routine and risky parts of their job. Instead, they concentrate on the more creative and collaborative portions.
Companies don’t always equate space maximisation with warehouse automation. In reality it is one of the most significant advantages automation provides. Space is a finite resource, especially in warehousing and distribution facilities that are packed with all kinds of goods.
Warehouse automation systems help maximise your available space. Warehouse automation systems feature robotics and other solutions that handle product retrieval and storage. This in turn reduces aisle widths as automated systems move goods more efficiently in less space. Implementing automation and robotics frees up valuable floor space, which increases the space available for more product storage.
Automation systems are not cheap, but they quickly pay for themselves. The upfront cost of adopting and implementing automation systems isn’t cheap, but pays for itself in the long run. Paying for manual labour quickly out-weighs the costs of using automation technology.
How Automative Warehouses work?
Robots and Systems to innovate
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV)
Automated guided vehicles and their smaller cousins, automated guided carts (AGCs), transport inventory around your warehouse. They normally follow magnetic stripes or a track laid in your warehouse.
Cross Belt Sorters and Conveyors
Specialist conveyor belts that discharge at 90 degrees to direction of travel.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR)
Autonomous Mobile Robots are like AGVs in that they use sensor technology to deliver inventory around the warehouse. However, AMRs don’t require a set track or preset route between locations. AMRs understand their environment through the use of computers, onboard sensors and maps.
Drones can help optimize warehouse inventory processes. The drones’ technology quickly scans locations for automatized inventory. They can connect automatically to your WMS.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
AS/RS are a technology that brings inventory in and out of storage. It’s typically paired with warehouse execution software that directs the operations.
Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
A software solution that offers visibility into a business' entire inventory and manages supply chain fulfillment operations from the distribution center to the store shelf.
History of robots in the supply chain
The first robots in the supply chain were found in manufacturing. George Devol filed the first robotics patent in 1954 (granted in 1961), and his company, Unimation, produced the first industrial robot in 1956. That first robot was capable of moving material about a dozen feet or so.
General Motors installed the first robot in a plant in New Jersey in 1962. For a long time, robots were only suited for work in industrial manufacturing because they weren’t safe for people to be around while they were in use.
The first robots were large robotic arms that could move according to programming. The innovators knew that people would dislike machines taking over people’s jobs. As a result they initially focused on shifting jobs dangerous or harmful jobs to robotic technology. This strategy was successful and robotic technology was adopted in potentially dangerous situations, such as welding and lifting heavy machinery.