To cultivate transformative results for a more resilient future, manufacturers, as well as distribution and logistics companies, are turning to advanced technologies. Proving to be indispensable in order fulfillment spaces is the use of high-performance robots paired with a blend of unique innovations and sophisticated software. Recent advancements, for example, combine the utilization of 3D robotic vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) with software intelligence for optimal motion control. Companies, such as Ambi Robotics, Mujin and Plus One Robotics, are savvy to this, implementing proprietary technologies to create solutions that help bridge gaps for distribution operations. Ideal for loading and unloading, sorting, picking, packaging, and palletizing in the e-commerce sector, companies that harness the capabilities these intelligent robotic solutions have to offer are experiencing a wealth of benefits:
Increased Throughput Capacity
Whether through industrial robots or via human-collaborative robots, the addition of robotic automation and its sophisticated peripherals to current production spaces provides the extra ability to accurately fulfill orders for on-time delivery. Highly influential since the pandemic, the use of robotic tools is helping manufacturers and distributors, alike, to accelerate product throughput in high-mix, low-volume environments for greater responsiveness. And, with nearly 60% of warehouses and logistics centers still looking to automate1, the ones that act now will find themselves ahead of the curve, fostering competitive edge.
Streamlined Production Flow
Along with capacity improvements, the presence of robots can also alleviate production bottlenecks. Whether a decision maker is looking to implement a more efficient production path from end-to-end, or an experienced automation user is seeking to refine an operational roadblock by adding a single- or multi-step process to current automation, the use of extremely agile robots with intuitive software can smooth parcel flow for optimal throughput. With throughput in mind, robotic automation serves to reduce parcel congestion on conveyor belts and eliminates human error. In turn, this translates into accelerated parcel flow for on-time delivery.
Product Quality Management
To maintain the high level of product quality expected by consumers, robots are used for numerous processes throughout modern manufacturing, distribution and logistics facilities. As mentioned, this usage helps maintain a controlled product flow, and it helps to ensure a high degree of accuracy throughout the production line. In turn, this leads to a reduction in human error and product destruction for lower return rates, keeping costs per SKU in check.
Since robotic automation is a driver of digitalization, a growing number of companies are also implementing sophisticated asset management platforms to monitor production equipment and track/capture the history of each SKU. Proven edge server platforms that utilize a leading OPC-UA interface, like Yaskawa Cockpit™, support this and can monitor multiple brand devices throughout an entire enterprise, collecting information in real time to enable data-driven manufacturing and order fulfillment.
Maximized Company Floorspace
From stationary systems to mobile platforms, a range of solutions exists to enhance current production in distribution centers. Whether sorting, picking, packaging, palletizing or loading and unloading, the use of robotic automation is an ideal way to maximize space. Keep in mind, if more fixed or hard automation is used, the less complicated it should be to implement. Production lines in need of more inputs or human-robot interaction are typically more difficult to automate. However, in the end, safety and application requirements will dictate what system is best. Regardless of the system chosen, however, long-term results will most likely reveal lower operating expenses for ultimate return on investment.
Workforce Stability and Safety
Capable of lights-out operation seven days a week, extremely reliable robots can work tirelessly to complete dull, dirty, dangerous and disliked jobs, preventing worker burnout and injury due to highly repetitive tasks. For example, large sorting centers use robotic arms for a process known as “tipping”. Here, exceptionally powerful and fast robots help tip a variety of pallets and cages containing items onto sorting lines at an incredible rate. This robotic intervention alleviates workers from heavy, monotonous lifting and frees individuals to perform other value-added tasks within the company. Overall, companies that implement these virtual workhorses often find that the morale of their workforce is much improved, along with employee productivity and longevity.
Ready. Set. Automate.
As e-commerce sales for physical goods continues to skyrocket, the combined use of high-performance robots with intelligent robot control systems – featuring a blend of 3D vision, machine learning and AI – will continue to thrive, bringing the necessary speed and reliability to production facilities. Moreover, direct-to-consumer retailers, general merchandise retailers, third-party logistics (3PL) providers and more that implement the use these extremely flexible robotic tools can achieve tangible results.
Decision makers interested in taking the robotic leap should reach out to a trusted robot supplier or integrator to schedule a site visit. Not only can this interaction answer many of the questions that typically surround robotic integration, especially where workflow is concerned, but also, it can provide the knowledge needed to make an informed purchasing decision that aligns with company goals.
Moreover, company leaders and production workers interested is seeing a variety of robot demonstrations and speaking to industry professionals at an off-site location should attend an upcoming tradeshow. As always, our Yaskawa experts are eager to learn how they can help manufacturers and distributers overcome tough challenges for greater productivity gains.
1 RPA Trends and Predictions 2023, SS&C Blue Prism, 2023
Image provided courtesy of Plus One Robotics.
Chris Ruelle is a Key Account Manager