Warehouse Robots: There's One for Each of Your Inventory Needs
Wed, April 21, 2021

Warehouse Robots: There's One for Each of Your Inventory Needs

More warehouses are incorporating robotics in their operations than ever before / Photo by: macor via 123RF

 

More warehouses are incorporating robotics in their operations than ever before. As a consequence, the warehouse robotics market will be valued at $6 billion by 2022 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 11.8% between 2017 and 2022, up from $2.28 billion in 2016, mentioned Will Allen of 6 River, a warehouse management and automation firm.

Automation will continue to make a profound impact on warehouses and distribution centers due to rising labor costs, rapid growth in e-commerce sales, and increased demand for quick order fulfillment (Ex: Two-day and same-day delivery), said John Gomez of 6 River. Other driving forces include workplace safety and labor availability. More warehouses and distribution centers will adapt to the changing landscape of warehousing as they become more aware of new technologies.

 

Warehousing Statistics You Need to Know

Government agency Bureau of Labor Statistics found there were 18,182 private warehousing establishments in 2018, a sharp increase from 15,203 in 2008. In a 2017 report published by Westernacher Consulting, a provider of global business and SAP consulting services, the average size of warehouses in 2000 was about 65,000 square feet.

In 2017, warehouses have grown to about 181,370 square feet. While the increase in size helped warehouses accommodate more SKUs (stock keeping unit), rising costs and long distances in large warehouses made size expansion less effective in solving operational issues. Fortunately, an increased number of warehouses and distribution centers are investing in automation and robotics due to a positive economic outlook, according to Peerless Research Group’s annual survey.

The custom and research solutions provider found that 42% of respondents proceeded with investments given the state of the economy in 2018, up from 35% in early 2017, as cited by Roberto Michel of Logistics Management, a magazine on logistics. Conversely, only 9% admitted they were “holding off” on investments, below 16% in 2017.

However, Westernacher Consulting stated only 10% of warehouses were using sophisticated warehouse automation technology as of 2016. The firm predicted the percentage of warehouses utilizing automation technologies will grow in the next five years.

Michel noted that warehouses and distribution centers are increasingly taking advantage of robotics for pick up and place, parts transfer, pick to card, order fulfillment, and truck loading and transportation. With regard to applications, using or considering robotics for pick and place or parts transfer rose by 8% to reach 41%. On the other hand, using or considering robotics for palletizing decreased by 8%.

Types of Warehouse Robots

Each type of warehouse robots serves different purposes and functions such as order picking or moving inventory throughout the warehouse. Additionally, warehouse robots are classified by payload capacity. Hence, warehouse robots with certain payload capacity are used more frequently depending on the industry’s nature and the warehouse’s needs.

1. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/AR)

These systems automate the inventory process by retrieving goods for shipment or use and returning products to their respective storage locations. One example of AS/AR solutions are cranes that pick up goods between aisles and shuttles that move between racks on a fixed tracking system.

2. Goods-to-Person Technology (G2P)

Similar to the aforementioned, G2P technologies include goods-to-person picking robots that move items to picking stations, where operators are responsible to fill items as products are delivered.

3. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

This includes self-driving forklifts that transport inventory from one place to another within the warehouse. AGVs depend on tracks or magnetic strips placed in planned travel paths. AGVs are sometimes accompanied by sensors or camera vision technology to maneuver around obstacles.

Interestingly, automated guided carts (AGCs) are grouped together with AGVs. However, the former carries smaller loads.

Each type of warehouse robots serves different purposes and functions such as order picking or moving inventory throughout the warehouse. Additionally, warehouse robots are classified by payload capacity / Photo by: Jozef Polc via 123RF

 

4. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

They are similar to AGVs and AGCs in a way that AMRs move inventory and materials throughout a warehouse autonomously. AMRs rely on maps and sensors “to navigate more flexible routes by interpreting the environment.” Autonomous inventory robots are one type of AMRs.

When used in tandem with RFID-tagged equipment and items, autonomous inventory robots perform inventory counts at predetermined times or intervals. AMRs also include collaborative mobile robots that augment the work of humans by guiding them through different tasks.

5. Articulated Robotic Arms

Robotic limbs with multiple joints and articulated robotic arms transport and lift goods in the warehouse. They are usually used for receiving functions such as moving products from pallets to racks, as well as picking, packing, and shipping in production environments.

6. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

When integrated with RFID technology, drones offer real-time inventory visibility within the warehouse.

How Are Warehouse Robots Used?

Loading and Unloading

Loading and unloading processes are done by forklifts and pallet trucks, but AGVs (Ex: automated forklifts) makes these tasks faster. However, one shortcoming of current unloading robotics technologies is that modifications will have to be made to the back of tractor-trailers. This is costly for warehouses that receive goods from multiple logistics providers.

Palletizing and Depalletizing

Palletizing and depalletizing are repetitive tasks. Automated palletizing equipment is growing in popularity to ease the burden on human workers who are fulfilling “tedious, non-ergonomically friendly tasks.” Typically, robotic palletizing solutions are equipped with an End-of-Arm Tool (EoAT) to get items and position them on a pallet. They are often paired with conveyors that transport goods to the palletizing area. There are even robot palletizing solutions that can handle fragile items.

Packaging

This is a labor-intensive task in warehouses that will surely benefit from automated technologies. Automated packing systems like bagging machines make the packaging process faster. Cartonization software is another technology warehouses can leverage to calculate the ideal carton size for orders based on dimensions and the like. The software minimizes waste and slashes labor costs by reducing the need to repackage products.

Automated packing systems like bagging machines make the packaging process faster. Cartonization software is another technology warehouses can leverage to calculate the ideal carton size for orders based on dimensions and the like / Photo by: Sasin Tipchai via 123RF

 

Transportation

Robotic transportation systems range from AGVs to conveyor systems and monorails. Monorails are generally used for pallet transport while conveyors help transport smaller items, boxes, or bins. AGVs can be built for customized load handling. The abovementioned solutions can move goods, containers, or pallets from loading docks to sorting areas or from picking zones to packing areas.

Replenishment

Thanks to drones’ RFID to monitor inventory levels, they scan barcodes up to 50% faster than manual scanning, transmitting inventory counts to the warehouse management system. These solutions can be configured to send alerts or delegate tasks based on triggers like inventory counts dropping to a certain level to automate replenishment processes.

Warehouse processes are tedious and repetitive, making warehouses and distribution centers ideal places for automated robotics solutions to thrive in. Warehouse robots perform various tasks from picking up goods to tracking inventory count. Warehousing will continue to evolve, so managers need to invest in robotics solutions to scale up their operations.