Supply Chain Warehouses are Falling in Love… with Robots

 
 
 
 

There is something fascinating about seeing machines do the work traditionally done by humans. This past fall at Summit (NAVUG and AXUG), our team set up a robot to demonstrate a pick and stage inventory scenario inside the Western Computer booth. Customers gathered in our booth to witness technology that is revolutionizing the Supply Chain industry. 

It is apparent that Robots are no longer just the stuff of science fiction movies. Amazon is a great example of employing 30,000+ automation robots working right next to humans in their warehouses to offer unprecedented service such as same-day delivery.


The rapid growth of e-commerce business has pushed fulfillment centers to look for innovative ways to support the changing demand for high volumes of small multi-line orders. The latest robotics systems are called autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) and are packed with embedded intelligence and software functionality designed for productivity.


Warehouse managers find if they offload repetitive tasks their productivity soars. Running 24/7 operations is possible with robots who never ask for time off or suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome.
 

Some of the claims for improved productivity include:

  • Faster picking, lower labor costs, and increased order accuracy
    Workers are able to process more orders faster, more accurately, and with less labor compared to traditional picking systems.
  • More time on task, less time walking
    Gives workers more time on task, minimizing time spent walking around the warehouse. You can easily meet peak period demands and respond to volume increases.
  • Easy integration, quick deployment, and easy scaling
    Integrates with virtually any warehouse management system, deploying quickly, and scaling easily as your needs grow.

Robotics companies in the US are targeting the logistics industry in a big way. Pushing hard are Fetch Robotics, Locus Robotics, and IAM Robotics; and monster Amazon Robotics is setting the bar high for warehouses everywhere.  inVia Robotics (www.inviarobotics.com) is a good example of a company that is offering this innovation as an automated, turnkey system to improve workflow with technology.
 

Robots and Humans, side-by-side without conflicts.

Imagine a Robot who can automatically learn the most efficient travel routes through your warehouse and dramatically improve worker efficiency and productivity 5x to 8x over traditional cart picking. Options to use a zone-based system allows for hands-free picking, while virtually eliminating errors.

An 80-pound robot can be configured to meet a wide range of tote and multi-bin picking needs, matching virtually any fulfillment requirement. Its lightweight design allows them to safely operate closely alongside workers.  When it stops working, simply change the battery and it is back to work.
 

How do Robots Learn?

Robots can rapidly learn by observing humans perform a specific task. A good example of this in action is given by the Japanese company Fanuc. Their industrial robots are capable of figuring out the best way to perform a particular task in a matter of hours.

The machine marks a significant improvement on current robots that need extensive programming in order to perform the precise tasks required of them. The Fanuc approach can potentially save huge amounts of time in this ‘teaching’ phase.

The robots use deep reinforcement learning to rapidly pick up new tricks by brute force of continual trial and error. After just eight hours of training it’s capable of around 90% accuracy. (Excerpted from “The Rise of Cloud Robotics” by Adi Gaskell.)
 

Do you think robotics could improve your supply chain warehouse? Comment below if you think robots could make your life easier in the warehouse.  

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