16 November, 2020

Autonomous Robotic Solutions – The Future of Warehousing

Adoption of autonomous and warehouse automation solutions assure uninterrupted fulfilment of orders, says Jabez Mendelson.

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and sensor technologies improving situational awareness and intelligence have created opportunities for robotics across a wide range of industries. Efficient human-robot interaction, reduced footprint, ease of integration, re-programmability, and a flexible environment are encouraging advancements of robots suitable for multiple industries. Robotic platforms are expected to play a vital role in the materials handling, logistics, and warehousing sectors. The adoption of autonomous robots supports factory automation and helps ease the roles of humans associated with dangerous and hazardous tasks. With robots still in the early stages of adoption, enabling technologies are expected to create disruptive opportunities in the material handling, logistics, and warehousing sector. The key enabling technologies include artificial intelligence, 5G communication, mixed reality, natural language processing, machine vision, and LiDAR sensors.

Autonomous robotic solutions have experienced major technological growth in recent years. This novel technology plays a crucial role in transforming many key industries, including automotive and aerospace, and is expected to have a similar impact on material handling, warehousing, and logistics. With the advent of Industry 4.0 and smart factories, diverse industries across the spectrum are increasingly adopting advanced robotic automation solutions for varied applications according to industry requirements.

The different types of autonomous and automated robotic solutions currently available for the warehouse industry include automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), goods-to-person technology (G2P), automated guided vehicles (AGVs), automated guided carts (AGCs), autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), unmanned aerial vehicles, and articulated robotic arms.

AMRs will be crucial in the material handling, logistics, and warehousing sector. AMRs are pre-programmed to handle and transport materials across the warehouse autonomously. They rely on maps and are guided with advanced sensors for localisation and navigation, such as cameras, LiDAR, and other sensor technologies. Semi-autonomous mobile robotic vehicles need infrastructure support, such as tracks, magnetic strips, or laser targets, for navigation. The AMR solutions are integrated with an array of advanced sensors, allowing them to interpret and map the warehouse environment efficiently. AMR solutions can be integrated with collaborative robots (a collaborative robot arm) to work with human workers. The robots can also determine an efficient navigation path to perform material handling tasks optimally. Some of the key benefits offered by AMRs include increased flexibility, enhanced safety, ease of implementation, and scalability.

Applications of AMRs for material handling inside the warehouse

The AMRs are specially designed for handling materials such as individual cases and totes and items within the facility. These solutions automate product transportation. They are suitable for the following applications:

AMRs for Picking Applications 

There are various AMRs designed to reduce travel time associated with picking. The solutions are used to improve picking operation productivity. The different types of AMRs for order picking include those used in conventional picking, goods-to-person picking, among others.

AMRs for Flexible Sortation

Autonomous robotic solutions for sorting tasks increasingly play a key role in warehouse material handling. The robotic solution can be integrated with a variety of material handling technologies. They can be used for high-speed parcel sortation, returns, e- commerce order fulfilment, returns handling, and short-term sortation.

Future of robots in the warehouse sector

Material handling, logistics, and warehouse industry participants are slowly but steadily learning about the advantages created by warehouse robots. They are utilising them to perform complicated tasks. Once the initial phase of technology adoption and adaption is achieved, users can rapidly expand robots’ utilisation in other manufacturing units. The trend will continue and increase the adoption of warehouse robots in the material handling and logistics arena. Human workers will also be spared from performing ergonomically challenging operations in a warehouse environment.

The next wave of advancements will depend on the developments of advanced sensing technologies currently being heavily researched. The advanced sensors will address the constraints faced in the adoption of warehouse robots today once commercially available. The adoption of robots in the materials handling and warehouse arena reduces the cost associated with production. Robots will improve human workers’ economics when deployed in an assembly system. Improvement in factory performance invariably leads to the reduction of production costs. Also, increasing interest in the research and development initiatives of autonomous robots is expected to create opportunities for warehouse robots. The inclusion of automated collaborative robots will help reduce human efforts for monotonous and low-skilled jobs. It can also reduce human efforts for dangerous and hazardous tasks in a warehouse environment.

Industry 4.0 has encouraged the reliance on data for making informed decisions. The huge volumes of data collected can be monetised, leading to new business opportunities in the manufacturing sector. Advancements in AI, deep learning, and machine learning will lead to their integration in robots, encouraging their adoption on a large scale.

Post-Covid-19 Scenario

The multi-billion-dollar warehouse and logistics automation industry has taken a significant hit as a result of the outbreak. According to our analysis, Covid-19 recovery is anticipated to be slow for warehouse automation in under-developed and developing countries. However, with the adoption of autonomous and warehouse automation solutions, there can be surety in the uninterrupted fulfilment of orders with minimal human resource requirements. These robots would also handle increasing warehouse orders and other requirements in the future.

Jabez Mendelson is working on key consulting assignments of coveted private sector/government clients, offering market intelligence and analysis after conducting secondary & primary research. He also develops strategy for market entry and competitive analysis that help clients in decision-making, creates compelling technology and business forecast models; and provides current and prospective clients with automation and electronics technology forecasting in the automotive and manufacturing sectors.


Source: Industrial Automation India