Are robots the future of warehouse picking?

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robot arm in warehouseAccording to Warehouse & Logistics News, scientists have begun designing robots that can pick goods by themselves in warehouses. At the moment, robots are mainly used within the warehouse environment to fulfil orders and inventory management, and it is humans who do the order picking. In the near future, robots will be able to pick orders, therefore, increasing efficiency, accuracy and productivity.

Bringing efficiency to order picking

In recent times, warehouse automation has made tremendous progress, especially when it comes to robotics. More businesses begin to see the positives of incorporating robotics into their everyday warehouse and logistics operation as they bring increased productivity, accuracy, and a boost in workplace safety.

So, what exactly are warehouse robots? 

Warehouse robots are specialised automated robots when are used to complete various warehouse tasks. They can help to pick, sort, and transport goods. In recent years, they have introduced more advanced sensors and processing capabilities. They are increasingly being supported by warehouse management systems that help to maximise their efficiency within the warehouse.

Are robots worth the investment?

Due to robotic advances, many warehouses have quickly seen that they have become an essential part of the supply chain. The Global Warehouse automated market has forecast that the warehouse automation market will grow up to $27 billion by 2025, which more than doubles its value in 2018 of $13 billion. These figures alone show that more businesses recognise that they should invest in warehouse robotics as they will deliver so many benefits to their operation.

What can robots do in a warehouse?

Robotics can be used for various warehouse tasks now, playing a considerable part in warehouse automation. Some of the functions that warehouse robots can do are:

  • Picking - this is where robots can be most heavily involved, most likely helping a worker. They can help to guide a worker to the correct picking location. They can plot the most efficient route around the warehouse, making decisions on the go as new orders come in. This helps the worker easily navigate the warehouse without making a wrong turn or trying to work out their following location for picking. Soon robots will be designed to select the orders themselves efficiently. Currently, autonomous robots are intelligent enough to navigate around the warehouse and pick themselves up before transporting stock items back to workers.
  • Sorting – Sorting can be complicated and often takes long periods for workers to complete. Warehouse robots can be equipped with cameras and sensors that can complete sorting tasks quicker and more efficiently with far fewer errors. Warehouses that use a batch or zone picking method can find robots more effective as the robot can scan and identify inventory at speed before sorting them into their required grouping. Because of optics, access to inventory data and sorting algorithms, this task is virtually automatic, so there is no need for human input.
  • Transportation – Transporting products around a warehouse is often the most time consuming and labour-intensive tasks. Automated guided vehicles can be used to move batches of picked items or heavy loads along a pre-programmed route without the need for human assistance. There are automated storage and retrieval systems that can completely mechanise the whole stock movement with a warehouse on their own.
  • Stock Replenishment – Warehouse robots can be used to replenish stock, ensure that stock levels are up to date, and handle any labour-intensive elements of the job itself.

What are the different types of warehouse robots currently? 

Various robots can be used within a warehouse environment, from moving stock to picking for a delivery. The most common warehouse robots are:

  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs)
  • Uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV)
  • Articulated robot arms
  • Automated storage and retrieval systems (AR/RS)

Automated guided vehicles – these are sophisticated robots that can navigate warehouse environments with ease. They make use of visual, audio, thermal and touch-based sensors. They can also use board maps and computers, so they can plan routes and reroute in seconds. They can move stock around a warehouse, delivering goods to pickers and packers, as well as planning routes for pickers.

Uncrewed aerial vehicles – Often called 'drones', these robots combine flying and logistics functionality. They can have cameras and scanners for stock-taking and a system for lifting and moving light cargo. Currently, their main job is inventory checking, where they fly on a pre-programmed route to scan and report back on stock levels. They are excellent for stock which is stored at height or in small environments.

Articulated robotic arms – A more classic warehouse robot that can pick up, move and put stock down. They are great for manoeuvring heavy items and pallets for storage, picking and packing and loading vehicles.

Automated storage and retrieval system – This can automate the process of moving goods ready for shipping or putting them away.  They are typically made up of a shuttle or crane on a fixed track that picks up and puts down items on a track within the warehouse. They are more efficient at monitoring stock, especially stock that is stored vertically.

What are the benefits of using warehouse robots?

  • Increased warehouse efficiency
  • Improved accuracy
  • Higher operational capacity
  • Reduced manpower and improved safety
  • Reduces need for larger storage space

The future of warehouse robotics looks bright, with innovative technology that will streamline warehouse work and creating a more efficient, safe and cost-effective solution for warehouse needs. Will your business invest in warehouse robotics?


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