The use of robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) in industries such as aerospace, automotive, electronics, food sector, and healthcare domain has led to a boost in efficiency and significantly reduced production time along with waste material.
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Recently, the number of companies and start-ups adopting just-in-time manufacturing has increased massively, which requires intricate handling and fabrication of products along with precise inventory management.
With almost no room for error in such manufacturing practices, automated mobile robots ensure product quality with smooth manufacturing and have become an integral part of the logistics and warehouse environment.
Robotics in Logistics and Inventory Management
The repetitive, dangerous work of manual warehouses is being easily automated by intelligent robotics. Experts in the industry have long considered warehouse jobs as suitable candidates for automation, a concept that has been around since the inception of robots.
As per an article published in Business Research and Innovation, implementing automation in warehousing and distribution is a valuable solution for e-commerce businesses. It enables them to address the substantial logistics requirements without exorbitant maintenance expenses. However, it is only recently that this field has evolved to a level where it seems feasible to integrate robotics on a significant scale.
Fully autonomous warehouse robots, equipped with sophisticated software and advanced sensors, are capable of independent navigation within storage areas. They can scan barcodes or RFID tags and continuously track real-time inventory data. This functionality leads to more accurate and current inventory management, helping to prevent typical errors associated with outdated or misplaced products. This, in turn, significantly influences decision-making by facilitating precise purchase planning and optimizing storage strategies.
Warehouse robots are typically mobile, robust, and capable of lifting substantial weights. With the advent of new intelligent and smart robots, these machines can coexist and function safely with human workers in the same environment. However, robots are not a replacement for humans in every task, rather they are working alongside humans to augment human effort.
What Different Types of Robots Are Used in Logistics and Warehouses?
The new sensor technology integrated into modern robots enables them to detect obstacles and safely perform operations. For warehouse management during logistics operations, several different types of robots are being utilized commercially these days.
These include Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which can intelligently navigate the warehouse using markers or advanced LIDAR technology. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) are a popular choice usually employed for helping humans during logistics and warehouse operations.
Aerial Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have been utilized for some time to reach places inaccessible to humans and perform tasks such as inventory scanning. Another famous development involving robotics in logistics and warehouse management is the automated storage and retrieval system robots. The mobility of these robots, along with their ability to use cranes and lifters to retrieve essential products, make them a popular choice in the modern industry.
Bergen Logistics Case Study: How Robotics Helped Improve their Inventory Management?
Bergen Logistics, a third-party logistics company in Bergen, New Jersey, specializes in fashion and consumer product, providing different services such as warehousing service, and pick & pack services for orders of wholesale and e-commerce businesses.
Fluctuating seasonal demands was a major issue, as peak season requirements vary each year, so automated inventory management became a necessity.
To address this issue, Bergen Logistics opted for CAJA Robotics as the technology solution for one of their New Jersey warehouses. The CAJA system currently covers 3,000 square meters of the Bergen Logistics warehouse space, with plans to eventually expand to 5,000 square meters.
The project was executed in stages over a year and involved using lift robots and cart robots. With the implementation of CAJA's solution, Bergen Logistics witnessed a remarkable 40% increase in order line throughput. This achievement was the result of optimizing order processing and warehousing, along with reducing downtime and the time workers spent walking around the warehouse.
The Role of Robotics in Just-in-Time Manufacturing Domain
Mobile robots are presently a pivotal element of 'Industry 4.0,' and their integration into just-in-line manufacturing processes is anticipated to rise even more significantly in the coming years.
Traditionally, robots have been employed in the manufacturing domain for some simple and conventional tasks, each handling straightforward, repetitive tasks. Although this method is effective for various logistics and manufacturing tasks, it doesn't adapt well to just-in-time manufacturing settings. In such environments, where product diversity and sequencing are essential, a more flexible route/mission assignment system is required.
In the manufacturing industry, Automated Mobile Robots can be used to transport subassemblies and components between manufacturing plants. This necessitates an adaptable mission assignment management system that can dynamically respond to shifting requirements, including on-route mission reassignment or cancellation in real time. Such modern robotics software systems are designed by several companies for just-in-time manufacturing units to integrate modern robots, a prime example of which is Sorion.
Sorion designed a fleetware system for AMRs that efficiently links the robotics operation with overall workflow and just-in-time manufacturing systems facilities. The fleetware system allows the robots to work optimally in areas such as manual and automated assembly lines, testing units, and pick-to-light system units.
The role of robotics in just-in-time manufacturing plants is to allow several robots to function in parallel with human beings while working together to solve complex problems. The automated workflow reduces errors on the production line and frees up a considerable amount of time for employees, enabling them to concentrate on more valuable and substantial tasks.
Walt Machines: Using Robotics to Increase Manufacturing Quantity
Walt Machine specializes in crafting precision aluminum components for optical assemblies and provides just-in-time manufacturing services. The president of the company wanted to increase the number of manufactured parts by using robotics. He consulted Robotiq and installed a Robotiq Wrist Camera and 2-Finger 140 Gripper on a UR10 co-bot optimized for the CNC machines around the clock.
The results were shocking for the company itself: incorporating robotics doubled their daily production. Subsequently, they have incorporated two additional robots into their operations and expanded their production from manufacturing 2,000 parts to producing 50,000 parts.
Robotics is helping in optimizing logistics, warehouse management, inventory management, and boosting the production of companies following the just-in-time production methodology. Modern software applications, precise sensors, and technologies such as artificial intelligence and Machine learning are enabling robots to learn and solve complex problems, leading to a massive boost in profit.
References and Further Reading
Amandeep, D. (2021). Reinventing Logistics: Use of AI & Robotics Technologies. Business Research and Innovation. p.147.
Jenkins, A. (2023). What is Warehouse Robotics?. [Online] Available at: https://www.netsuite.com/portal/resource/articles/ecommerce/warehouse-robotics.shtml
[Accessed 4 November 2023].
Robotiq (2023). Evolution of a Machine Shop: Walt Machine. [Online] Available at: https://blog.robotiq.com/hubfs/Case%20Studies/Walt-machine/case-study-walt-machine-en.pdf
[Accessed 5 November 2023].
Robotnik (2023). Automated Inventory Management by Autonomous Warehouse Robots. [Online] Available at: https://robotnik.eu/automated-inventory-management-by-autonomous-warehouse-robots/ [Accessed 4 November 2023].
Sorion (2023). Autonomous Mobile Robots in a Just-in-Time Production Environment. [Online] Available at: https://www.sorion-group.com/autonomous-mobile-robots-in-a-just-in-time-production-environment/ [Accessed 6 November 2023].
Spatial (2023). Discover How Manufacturing is Using Robots to Streamline Production. [Online] Available at: https://blog.spatial.com/robots-in-manufacturing [Accessed 4 November 2023].