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Warehouse Robotics – The Ultimate Guide for 2023
Warehouse Robotics 2023 Guide
In recent years, there has been a significant advancement in robotics technology, particularly in the warehouse industry. The integration of robotic solutions is transforming warehouse operations, allowing distribution centres to increase productivity, accuracy, and safety. By implementing automated systems to manage complicated processes or dangerous tasks, companies can now reduce labour costs, streamline operations, and increase efficiency. In this guide, we will explore the types of warehouse robotics, the benefits of using advanced robots in the warehouse, and the challenges that arise.
Automated systems have become increasingly popular in warehouses and distribution centres, and robots are now playing a more significant role in the distribution of goods. One of the main challenges businesses face is the amount of time and manual labour required to move goods from one location to another. By implementing warehouse robotics, businesses can reduce the amount of time required to move goods, freeing up workers to focus on other value added tasks. Warehouse robots can also be programmed to perform repetitive tasks with a high degree of accuracy, eliminating the risk of human error and fatigue for warehouse workers.
Another benefit of warehouse robotics is that they can improve worker safety. Warehouse robots can be programmed to lift and move heavy objects, reducing the risk of injury to workers. By removing the need for workers to manually move heavy objects, businesses can create a safer work environment, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.
Types of warehouse robotics
There are an increasing number of warehouse robots in use today, ranging from compact autonomous mobile robots to large scale automated storage and retrieval systems. The potential use and benefit of each type of warehouse robotics should be thoroughly assessed to understand the best fit for your warehouse automation requirements, as each environment will differ according to their leverage, use cases, and the challenges that they solve.
There’s a wide range of specialised warehouse robotics available to the SME market today, including:
AGVs are used in operations to replace manually driven forklifts or pick carts. Automatic AGVs can be programmed to follow established routes around the warehouse facility that are marked by sensors, wires, and magnetic strips. Modern AGVs utilise cameras, Lidars, and infrared to navigate the warehouse, providing a safe way to move goods to and from the desired locations.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)
AMRs are similar to AGVs but they don’t need fixed tracks to navigate between two locations. AMRs are highly versatile and come equipped with specialised software with on-board advanced sensors used for navigation around the warehouse. Using SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) technology AMRs also have the intelligence to avoid any obstacles they might come across by assessing the warehouse environment and navigating its own way round it.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
These are a group of computer-controlled systems that help automate inventory management facilitating on-demand automated storage and retrieval of the inventory. AS/RS systems use shuttles and tracks that can easily traverse often narrow inventory aisles which not only enhance storage capacity but also speed up the order fulfilment process. As the structures are fully automated, they can be designed with narrow spaces between aisles and take advantage of the full height of the building. This compact storage solution is therefore able to use a much smaller footprint than other types of storage equipment such as pallet racking.
Collaborative Robots (Cobots)
Cobots are semi-autonomous mobile robots designed to assist warehouse employees in picking tasks. These mobile robots essentially follow workers around the warehouse floor as they pick various orders, with the collaborative robots acting as a mobile storage trolley. Cobots help to speed up pick efficiency and also remove potential strain on the worker with having to lift or carry items to the pick stations.
Articulated Robotic Arms
Robotic Arms are multi-jointed limbs that are capable of many different types of warehouse activities. Their flexible robotic arms are used to move, turn, lift and manoeuver items and are ideally suited to picking, packing, storing and palletising the inventory within a warehouse setting.
Goods-to-person (G2P) Robots
Working on a similar principle to AS/RS, goods-to-person robots are used to remove the required inventory from an automated storage system and deliver it to stationary pick stations where human operators fulfill orders. This level of automation enhances warehouse operations through accuracy and efficiency, eliminating the potential for manual picking errors.
Benefits of Warehouse Robotics
Warehouse robotics has the potential to make a significant difference to warehouse operations including inventory management, pick efficiency and overall warehouse safety and enable businesses to stay competitive in today’s dynamic logistics marketplace.
Robots can also help to improve the accuracy of warehouse operations by eliminating errors caused by human error or fatigue. Robots can be programmed to scan barcodes and RFID tags, locate and pick items from shelves or bins, and track inventory levels with a high degree of accuracy. This can help to reduce errors and improve inventory accuracy, which can have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and business performance.
Robotics can help to streamline operations, reduce manual labour, and increase productivity. Robots can work around the clock, without requiring breaks or rest, and can perform repetitive tasks with high precision and speed. This can help to increase the efficiency of warehouse operations and reduce the time and cost required to complete tasks.
Robotics can help to improve safety in the warehouse by reducing the risk of accidents and injuries caused by manual handling or heavy lifting. Robots can lift and move heavy items without requiring human intervention, reducing the risk of injuries caused by lifting and carrying heavy loads. This can help to create a safer working environment for employees and reduce the risk of workplace accidents.
Robotics can be easily scaled up or down depending on the needs of the warehouse. Additional robots can be added as required to handle peak periods or seasonal fluctuations in demand, while robots can be deactivated or removed during quieter periods to reduce costs. This can help to improve flexibility and agility in the warehouse, enabling businesses to respond quickly to changes in demand.
Integrating robotics into warehouse operations can help to reduce labour costs and increase efficiency, which can lead to cost savings over time. Although there is an initial investment required to purchase and install robotics, the long-term benefits can outweigh the initial costs, particularly for larger warehouses that handle high volumes of goods. Robots can also work in low lighting areas offering further cost savings.
Supply Chain Management
Robotics play a vital role in warehouse automation and continue to address common challenges in supply chain management, including:
- More complicated fulfilment strategies
- Changing order profiles
- Rising employment costs and wages
- Decreased labour availability in the market
In particular, robotics can be used to enhance the following warehouse operations:
Picking is the most common warehouse operation performed by warehouse robots. As picking operations account for more than 55% of a warehouse or distribution centre costs, the integration of robotics technology to enhance pick activity could provide a timely solution, not only to reduce order processing times and risk of order picking errors, but also the associated costs by reducing travel time through the warehouse.
Warehouse robots used for sorting tasks will typically have additional components such as conveyors, arms, cameras and sensors, as well as the intelligent integrated software used to interact with the warehouse management system which allows them to accurately identify the inventory item and allocate it to the correct tote or storage area.
Warehouse robotics include automated systems such as cartonization software and bagging machines that help speed up packaging operations. These systems work with features such as products’ overall weight and dimensions to calculate the ideal carton size for orders and direct associates to the correct task.
Carrying items from one end of the warehouse to another is physically demanding and decreases the amount of time a worker can spend doing value-added tasks in the fulfillment process. Robotic transportation systems such as conveyor systems and AGVs help to transport pallets and goods from one location to another, thus reducing human footprint, and associated stress or fatigue.
Some warehouse robots can automate replenishment workflows, thus reducing risk of low stock and backorders through automated re-ordering. Such automated warehouse systems can monitor inventory levels and send out alerts when inventory counts drop below the minimum threshold. Other automations like AGVs can direct workers in the replenishment process when new inventory arrives, keeping order processing on track and efficient.
Challenges of Integrating Warehouse Robotics
Whilst there are clear and significant benefits to integrating warehouse robotics into warehouse operations, there are also challenges that come with potentially implementing any form of new technology.
High Initial Investment
The initial investment required to purchase and install robotics in a warehouse can be significant. Depending on the complexity of the robotics system, businesses may need to spend a considerable amount of capital to implement the technology. This can be a barrier for smaller businesses or those with limited budgets.
Robotics systems can be complex, requiring specialised technical knowledge and skills to install and maintain. This means that businesses may need to invest in training or hire additional staff to manage the robotics system, which can be challenging for some organisations.
Integration with Existing Systems
Integrating robotics with existing warehouse management systems and processes can be challenging. The robotics system must be able to communicate with other systems, such as inventory management and order processing, to ensure that warehouse operations are optimised. This can require significant technical expertise and may take time to implement.
Introducing new technology into a warehouse environment can disrupt operations and require changes to existing processes. This can cause a temporary decline in productivity as employees adjust to the new system and learn how to work with the robots.
Maintenance and Repair
Robotics systems require regular maintenance to ensure that they operate efficiently and effectively. This can require specialised technical skills and can be costly over time.
Introducing robotics into a warehouse environment can lead to workforce resistance, particularly if employees feel that their jobs are threatened. Businesses must communicate the benefits of the robotics system to their employees and provide training to ensure that workers are comfortable with the new technology.
Warehouse robotics has the potential to add significant value to warehouse operations, delivering enhanced inventory management, pick efficiency and improving overall warehouse safety.
Robots are highly versatile and adaptable, assisting with eliminating costly manual errors, speeding up order fulfilment and facilitating better inventory and supply chain management. Furthermore, with the ongoing labour shortage affecting the UK warehouse and logistics sector, warehouse robotics provide a reliable, accurate alternative to warehouse staff, capable of carrying out important tasks such as order processing and replenishment in a succinct and timely manner.
Integrating warehouse robotics can pose some challenges, however, with careful assessment of needs, implementation planning and management, these challenges can be overcome, and the significant benefits of warehouse robotics can be realised.
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