Robotics and automation have come a long way in recent decades, from the initial creation of robotics for manufacturing in the 1950s – a robotic arm device that transported die castings in a General Motors plant – to today’s standpoint, where we can now clearly see that the future of warehousing is in robotics and automation.
According to Zebra’s Warehousing Vision Study, nearly 90 percent of warehouse operators agree they must implement new technology to be competitive in the on-demand economy, and 80 percent of warehouse operators agree they will have to rely more on automation in the future.
With an increasing need for automation solutions in the market, Zebra has been investing their resources on building and upgrading their current capabilities in robotics. Since acquiring Fetch Robotics last year, Zebra has helped its customers overcome numerous challenges in the warehousing and manufacturing space to improve business performance. And when you combine Zebra’s expertise in machine vision and scanning solutions with robotics, warehouses can realize transformational gains.
Despite a growing sentiment in favor of automation, many organizations are not comfortable integrating new technology into their warehouse ecosystems. As per the Zebra study, about 61% of decision-makers said they’re uncertain about exactly where to start automating their operations. With such a wide array of warehouse robots around, it’s confusing to pick one that suits your needs. This is why we are taking an in-depth dive into what types or robots are available in the market, and where you can use these to make your warehouse more efficient.
Types of warehouse robots
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV)
AGVs are now commonly found in factories and warehouses where the repetitive movement of items is required. These vehicles follow a guided route and stop when there is an obstacle in the way. They have now been developed further to create Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), with the ability to navigate around obstacles. These are now beginning to become more prevalent than AGVs.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR)
AMRs carry out the same tasks as AGVs yet they are easier to use, affordable and more advanced. They can work side-by-side with people, increasing productivity by reducing the time it takes to fetch or move items. An AMR uses powerful sensors and on-board computers to understand its operating environment. It can navigate dynamically using a map, allowing it to plan its own paths, travel quickly and efficiently, and react to people, cars, forklifts, and more.
Cube Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems (cASRS)
cASRS are usually storage facilities or ‘hives’ where robots move around to store and retrieve items for delivery to a pick/put station. They are popular in areas where high storage density is required.
Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS)
ASRS are high-performance solutions using shuttles/robots to store and retrieve high volumes of goods from defined storage locations. Some ASRS can perform up to 1,400 bin presentations per hour and are used in a wide variety of industries.
Piece Picking Robots
A piece picking robot picks goods from various goods to person (G2P) storage systems. Robotic piece-pickers are ideal where companies find it difficult to hire and retain warehouse staff or they need to improve the cost-efficiency of warehouse operations. They play a key role in improving the accuracy, timeliness and predictability of moving products into, through, and out of the warehouse.
These are basically AGVs with forks. Automated forklifts move around and transport materials on their own without any help from workers. Advancements in automation and computer vision have contributed to the progress of forklift technology, and now warehouse operators can rely on this equipment to move heavy goods.
Another new advancement in automation technology, warehouse drones are used to perform tasks such as inventory management, cycle counting, and stock finding. These aerial devices are capable of scanning barcodes and RFID tags much faster than manual scanning, thus saving time for workers to focus on other specialized areas.
What are warehouse robots used for?
Warehouse robots can be used for variety of tasks, and each category has its own application. Therefore, it is vital to understand your requirements and warehouse infrastructure before making a decision.
Transporting materials from one point to another is one of the most common uses of warehouse robots. Since manual material transport can be time-consuming and unsafe for your employees, many warehouses have started using robots to automate materials movement. Because of obstacle avoidance technology, warehouse robots such as AMRs can move a single item or a cart of items from point to point or they can be deployed to move items from a point to multiple points.
Order picking remains at the core of many distribution and fulfillment operations, but with large providers like Amazon driving fast shipments, it is more important than ever to optimize your picking operations. This is where warehouse robots can help in your piece-picking workflows by collaborating with workers using vision technology or handheld devices.
When it comes to case picking, distribution centers’ need for specialized equipment makes picking operations more expensive and has the added risk from equipment like forklifts and lift trucks operating around people. By using warehouse robots, you can minimize the amount of time employees have to leave their zones to transport cases and partial pallets through the facility. This also has the added benefit of reducing forklift accidents and congestion for your other operations.
Without the right products in the right place, fulfilling orders in distribution and fulfillment centers can take much longer. Some warehouse robots can automate replenishment workflows and send alerts when inventory goes below a certain threshold. Other robots, like AMRs, can work with warehouse management systems to coordinate picking and replenishment tasks so that inventory is always replenished on time.
From returns, packing, kitting, or shipping processes there is a lot of garbage or packaging material that clogs up your warehouse. You can schedule robots to pick up bulk containers with garbage without using forklifts or manual carts. When these robots are not removing trash, they can be repurposed to do other productive tasks.
Benefits of warehouse robotics
Robotics and automation are now significant driving forces behind the future success of warehouses, distribution and fulfillment centers. Other sectors are also beginning to experience the transformational benefits associated with robotics.
From always-counting inventory robots in retail to disinfecting robots in offices, and from medicine delivery robots to tracking blood samples in hospitals, the benefits of automation and robotics are gradually infiltrating across verticals.
You can benefit in many ways with robotics and automation, such as:
- The ability to scale up or reduce capacity to meet peaks and troughs in demand increases productivity.
- Reduced repetitive tasks for workers and associated fatigue and injury.
- Technology that can easily adapt to a constantly changing warehouse or distribution center.
- Reduced hardware costs and maintenance fees for an excellent return on investment.
- Workers that are able to focus on more complex tasks or dedicate their time to customer services.
- Workflows and processes can become more efficient and productive.
- Manual tasks that take up the majority of workers’ time, for example transporting and delivering material within the warehouse, can be done by robotics.
Robots can deliver significant value to your warehouse operations, and some of these robots, such as AMRs, are simple to deploy and don’t require major infrastructural changes.
You can download our whitepaper to make an informed choice on whether AMRs are the right fit for your needs.