Warehouse robotics are transforming the logistics industry. Ushering in a new era of automation, robotics have rapidly developed to have the capability to handle a vast variety of logistical tasks, with types of robots varying from articulated robotic arms, to semi-autonomous mobile collaborative robots and beyond.
For many warehouse operatives, the pandemic has brought with it a refreshed visualisation of how the logistics industry operates, with many organisations looking to invest in better, and more up-to-date, technology.
But where did warehouse robotics originate from, and what does the future hold for logistical automation?
The history of warehouse robotics
Supply chain robotics date back to 1954, with George Devol and his company, Unimation, producing the world’s first industrial robots to be used within the supply chain.
Initially used in industrial manufacturing, early-stage robots were used for dangerous or difficult jobs that their human counterparts were happy to relinquish, such as lifting heavy machinery or welding.
Careful not to promote the robots as objects that could threated human jobs, the technology was gradually accepted into more and more organisations, with technological developments aiding in the adaptation of robots into the industrial aids they are today.
The rise of robotics in modern warehousing
Rapid developments in robotics technology over the last few years has opened up opportunities to blend robotics with automation, implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to increase robotic capabilities, freeing up valuable human workers time and resources to focus on more complex tasks.
Autonomous robots are now commonplace in many warehouses, and are operated through three primary areas:
- Better AI and machine learning
- Modern sensors and response capabilities
- Up-to-date warehouse management software
As e-commerce giants such as Amazon continue to push the world online, agile supply chain management has become imperative to an organisation’s logistical operations.
Warehouse owners are rapidly scaling up their robotic capabilities to deal with increased demand, opening up opportunities for more flexible cut off and delivery times, with robots responsible for a range of autonomous tasks such as:
All of this, coupled with constantly evolving technological capabilities means that warehouse robotics will only continue to improve the accuracy, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of logistics.
What kind of robots can work in your warehouse?
There are a wide range of robotic types that you may find within a warehouse:
- Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) – AGVs can be used to move inventory and assets around the warehouse, replacing manually driven forklifts and pick carts.
- Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) – These computer systems support the automation of inventory management and enable warehouses to store and retrieve goods on demand.
- Goods-to-person (G2P) – G2P technology uses an automated system to deliver items to pick stations, where human operators then complete the orders.
- Collaborative robots – These semi-autonomous mobile robots provide support to human workers, as they perform tasks in the warehouse.
- Articulated robotic arms – These multi-jointed arms can be used to move products round the warehouse. They are often used in picking, packing, storage, and palletising processes.
Robotics are set to continue to play a significant role in the future of logistics, improving accuracy, reducing pressure on human workers and contributing to task automation.