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Robotics in Logistics & Distribution

Monday, January 18, 2016
posted by IMT-Webmaster

robotics-in-logistics-webIncreased speed, accuracy and efficiency, while lowering costs from the producer to the end user, are the goals of every supply chain manager. Today computer-driven robots are being integrated into each segment of manufacturing, distribution and logistics. Machines programmed for specific functions can accomplish tasks quicker, safer and with fewer errors than humans can. In complex distribution and warehousing, particularly when millions of fast moving products and parts are involved, technology & manufacturing robotic innovations are critical to competitiveness and profitability.

As yet, not everything can be handled by machines. Judgement calls, analysis and decision-making remain within the domain of human capability. Customer and supplier interaction, inventory decisions and even communications with and programming of these robotic devices require human interface. By using robots to perform repetitive mind-numbing tasks, skilled employees can be advanced to perform more complex and interesting roles.

Robotics in Warehousing

Optimizing space and minimizing retrieval speed are critical objectives. In the past, inefficient space management has led to building expansions or even relocations that are not warranted. Picture the wide aisles of conventional warehouses required to allow bulky human-driven forklifts to maneuver while storing and picking. Consider the maximum height of racking for conventional equipment to safely place and retrieve pallets or other packing units.

With robotic shelving, rail systems, code readers and picking systems, cases and pallets can be placed randomly in any slot and easily retrieved as needed without human assistance. No longer are like products required to be grouped in order that humans may locate them in easy-to-find areas.

Virtually every cubic foot of space may be utilized in a modern warehouse, no longer limited by the reach capacity of conventional equipment.  Space requirements of a robotic warehouse can be substantially reduced.

 “Speed of Light” Order Picking

With technology & manufacturing robotics, the products come to the workers rather than the workers traveling to the product, a much more efficient arrangement.

Customer orders initiate the picking process and all other activities. The system instantly identifies the precise pallet or the location of the desired items. This triggers the picking mechanisms to pull a pallet or case from its “slot” and directs it through a series of conveyors. Elevators automatically lower the item to a ground level staging area. If the product must be weighed or otherwise labeled, the item passes automatically through the appropriate devices before loading. Automated fork lifts move the product to the delivery vehicle.

There are numerous companies involved in technology & manufacturing innovation. Configurations differ depending upon the manufacturer. But the objectives are the same. In most systems, racking consists of tracks, rails and elevators that can quickly move a pallet from a remote location in the building to the staging area for integration with other products prior to being robot-loaded onto pre-positioned delivery vehicles.

Once the item is picked or pulled from its storage location, the system adjusts the inventory, produces a load sheet and routes the product automatically to the assigned delivery vehicle.

Some Advantages of Technology & Manufacturing Robotic Systems in Logistics

  • Improved Productivity
  • Accurate Inventory Control
  • Improved Space utilization
  • Reduced Breakage and Damage
  • Delivery Truck Turnaround
  • More Efficient Receiving

Delivery Drones: The New Frontier

With the help of GPS technology & manufacturing innovations, human-operated delivery vehicles still manage the transport of goods. But currently, large companies such as Amazon, WalMart and others are experimenting with the possibility of using robotic drones for delivery in order to further reduce the lapsed time from order placement to delivery to a few hours. Once a delivery is complete, the empty drones will automatically return to their home base to be reused.

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