While the first rudimentary machines started to appear millennia ago, the mechanical devices started to come into their own a few hundred years back when they were developed and used to make products people needed quicker, easier, uniformly, and mistake free. Fast forward to today, and machines have advanced to such a degree that they can operate independently. We are, of course, talking about robots, automated machines that can be programmed to carry out tasks and perform them without human intervention.
When it comes to warehouses, robots are becoming more and more invaluable. Without them, ecommerce wouldn’t be able to process the vast number or orders it has to fulfill, and the industry certainly wouldn’t be able to keep its two-day-delivery promise. As a measure of the importance robots have to warehouses, predictions are that the market for them will grow from $4,400 in 2020 to $15,792 in 2030, which is a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.2%.
A variety of robots can be found in modern-day warehouses, different types that are adapted to specific tasks, some more independent than others. Together, they are part and parcel of warehouse automation.
In this blog, we’re going to explore the different types of robots warehouses use today and talk about their many benefits.
Types of robots found in warehouses
1. Collaborative robots
Commonly known as cobots, these are robotic helpers that can work alongside humans because they have sensors that detect their environment and an internal map by which they can follow a programmed path. In fact, if they encounter an obstacle in this path, they are able to maneuver around it. Cobots operate as coworkers, automating order fulfillment tasks like picking and packing, and they are often used to take care of strenuous activities like taking heavy items down from high or low shelving. Sometimes, they push the trolleys that human pickers put their packages on. Cobots also have a capacity to learn, which means that they can be reprogrammed when needed for a different task. Just like warehouse management systems, Cobots optimize operations.
2. Mobile robots
As the name implies, these robots are independent and move about on their own. Equipped with sensors and cameras, they are aware of their environment, follow a programmed path, and are able to move around obstacles like cobots can, but unlike their co-working cousins, they don’t operate as direct assistants to humans. Instead, they carry out tasks on their own, usually taking a path they’ve been programmed to follow in the facility as they take goods and items from one area to another.
Mobile robots are relatively easy to introduce into a warehouse setting and are easy to program, making them ideal additions.
3. Aerial robots
These flying computers with cameras are drones. The great advantage of these overhead robots is that they can quickly and easily monitor inventory, counting it for stocktaking or searching for particular items as they move between the aisles.
Sensors ensure the safety of these drones, preventing them from flying into objects or people.
4. Autonomous guided vehicles
Autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) fill the same function as mobile robots. Both are designed to move goods and items from one place to another independently, but whereas the mobile kind can be programmed to navigate a route, AGVs need to have their paths laid out on the floor of the warehouse with magnetic tape or -frequency identifiers (RFID tags). AGVs aren’t able to navigate their way around an obstacle like the mobile robots can either; they will be aware of the obstacle, but will stop in place until it’s removed.
5. Automated storage and retrieval systems
Here we have comprehensive setups that move large quantities of items from one place to the other. They’re not robots per se, but they incorporate these autonomous machines along with computer programs. A way of automating inventory management, these AS/RS systems, as they’re usually referred to, place goods in storage, or pick them up, and take them somewhere else when that’s needed. They can move items quickly, which is why they’re useful, and the fact that they completely automate the task of moving inventory from one place to another guarantees that it’s done accurately.
There are two main types of AS/RS systems:
- Unit load AS/RS: Used to move large items like pallets and containers, this system typically uses cranes or other large robotic devices.
- Mini-load AS/RS: Adapted for smaller items like parts or individual items, this system typically uses small robots or other automated devices.
The benefits of using robots in warehouses
1. Increased efficiency
Robots work faster and more accurately than humans. That’s a factor that increases productivity, reduces lead times, and results in orders getting out the door faster. Robots can also work without losing a beat 24/7, and they don’t need breaks. In other words, robots = more done, more accurately in less time, a formula that results in greater efficiency.
2. Improved accuracy
Like all machines, robots perform their repetitive tasks with precision and accuracy. This is particularly necessary for industries like pharmaceuticals and electronics, but it is also important in warehouses. There, picking, sorting, restocking, and packing are areas of inventory management that also need close attention to detail. And that’s why robots are such a vital component of warehouse operations.
3. Less chance of injury
With robots doing the heavy lifting, literally, the chances of employees being injured on the job is greatly reduced. The automated machines take large boxes down from high shelving, pull them from low shelving, and grab them from hard-to-reach places. They also push collection carts around for the human pickers, cutting down on the amount of strain these workers have to cope with during their working day.
When employees’ workload is eased by robots, safety isn’t the only outcome: morale is also lifted, a factor that, in turn, ratchets up productivity.
4. More flexibility
Depending on the robot, they’re relatively easy to reprogram. Meaning that if you want them to stop one action and start another, it’s not difficult to give them new instructions. Because of this flexibility, they can quickly adapt to changing needs in the warehouse, and will do so without displaying growing pains.
5. Better scalability
When a business grows, keeping up with the increased demand can be a challenge. But robots can rise to that challenge. And they can do that without the company needing to take on more workers.
6. Enhanced safety
Besides the increased safety for the workforce outlined above, the robots that move goods from one place to another have sensors that recognize obstacles in their way and either stop or move around them. As a result, there’s little chance of a robot running into a human or crashing into a large object.
In a nutshell
Robots are a great asset to any warehouse. They streamline the processes involved in moving inventory around, and in doing so improve business operations and help the bottom line.
A good warehouse management system is also a great asset. Cin7 Core (formerly DEAR Systems) has features that will take your logistics to a new level and your business to new heights.
To find out more about our WMS, click here to schedule time with one of our experts today!