One of a variation of scenes depicting the automated UK warehouses involves a circuit board of activity as scores of box-shaped robots soar between pallets, scanning shelves and retrieving stock for delivery to a picking station. Automation being used for warehousing operations is not new, but with recent advancements in big data and the Internet of Things it is reaching new levels of sophistication.
The most obvious reason for using robotics is cost. When properly implemented, it reduces the amount of labour required by warehouse operations, enables higher productivity and creates the potential to better utilise building space.
Moreover, robotic applications can provide greater agility and responsiveness when integrated with smart data and integrated systems. For example, a warehouse might receive an order at 6pm and need it shipped by 6.30pm; therefore it is essential that in that half an hour the order of rapidly processed.
Health and safety is another area in which robotics can help. Warehouses are typically hazardous environments and automated solutions can augment the human element in certain tasks, removing health and safety risks and limitations completely.
One of the potential downsides is that robotics are much more sensitive to tolerance as they follow pre-programmed instructions. A human can deal very easily with an uneven floor, but for an AGV, this could cause a significant problem.Manually, these issues can be managed on a case-by-case basis as people identify, react and adapt to situations. However, when using robots, they can be critical failure factors.
The potential savings made possible by robotic warehousing are huge, especially at enterprise level, but it is important to realise there are hidden details that should be sorted out before a business even gets to a trial stage. By surfacing the potential issues and achievable benefits with supply chain experts who can plan the end-to-end system, the supply chain can become ready for robots.