Warehousing robotics, like all robotic solutions, are automated machines that are programmed to assist human employees with repetitive, time-consuming, and sometimes dangerous tasks. The specialization of warehouse robots, however, is geared toward e-commerce and automation centers whose operations center around logistical coordination of items.
Industrial robots are often bulky and fixed to one spot, with highly distinct capabilities like assembly, manufacturing, painting, or welding tasks. Being stationary and specialized allows these machines to perform with high precision, speed, and the ability to handle heavy loads.
On the other hand, automated warehouse robots have a larger focus on mobility, with their key characteristics including:
- Autonomy: capable of semi- or fully-independent navigation with minimal human intervention, by using advanced sensors and software.
- Integration: warehouse automation robots are increasingly easier to sync with existing WMS for coordinated operations and ease of interaction.
- Adaptability: many robots in warehouses now possess artificial intelligence and machine learning, allowing them to adapt to changing tasks and environments.
- Inventory Specialization: focus on warehousing tasks such as inventory management, order fulfillment, and item relocation.
Though overlap may exist in tech like automation, AI, and even mobility, warehouse robots companies focus on tailoring their innovations toward warehousing tasks, e-commerce environments, and integration with warehouse management systems.
What are Warehouse Robotics Used For?
In a busy warehouse, there are numerous specialized domains within which mobile robots for warehouse automation can operate. Each of these areas may require specialized technologies and designs for each robot to more effectively tackle the sector’s main challenges. Specific tasks assigned to these machines can include:
Picking and Placing
Warehouse picking robots collect items from shelves and distribute them into bins or conveyors for processing by using various types of grippers (e.g., claw or vacuum technology), 3D vision software for precision, and different robot positioning options (floor-bound, mobile on floor rails, or hanging on gantries).
The use of pick-and-place robots can increase productivity by 25% to 70% and reduce logistical costs by 20% to 40% [source]. They also enable workers to focus on creative and challenging tasks by automating repetitive activities.
Main benefits realized:
- Increased Efficiency: Robots in warehouses can operate continuously without breaks, speeding up the picking process significantly.
- Reduced Error Rates: Automated systems are more accurate, leading to fewer mistakes in order fulfillment.
- Labor Cost Savings: Reduces the need for manual labor in repetitive and physically demanding tasks.
Sorting and Organizing
Sorting robots are designed to organize and separate warehouse inventory for more efficient future storage, retrieval, and shipment. They ensure items are directed to the correct storage locations and properly tracked by using robotic arms in combination with conveyor systems and autonomous mobility to move through the facility and sort items.
Main benefits realized:
- Enhanced Sorting Speed: Robots can sort items much faster than humans, essential for high-volume warehouses.
- Improved Accuracy + Decreased Safety Risk: Automated sorting minimizes categorizing errors while reducing injury risks to employees from heavy or unstable retrieval.
- Flexibility: Robots can easily adapt to different sorting criteria, which is beneficial for warehouses handling a diverse range of products.
Packing and Palletizing
Robotic warehouse automation may include specialized palletizing robots and/or articulated robotic arms for filling, sealing, and loading boxes in preparation for shipping or storage. In addition to robotic manipulators with precision movement and force control, palletizing robots can have end-of-arm tooling designed to handle multiple boxes and stack them efficiently and even vision systems for barcode scanning or product identification.
Main benefits realized:
- Consistent Packaging Quality: In a robotics warehouse, automated packaging ensures that each package is uniformly packed, improving the overall quality.
- Optimized Space Utilization: An automated warehouse robot can stack and palletize items more efficiently, maximizing space utilization in transport and storage.
- Reduced Material Waste: Precision in packing and palletizing leads to less use of packing materials and reduced waste.
Transporting and Shelving
With autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and autonomous guided robots (AGVs) on the warehouse floor, merchandisers can transport goods from one part of their facility to another without human oversight necessary. Often this process is completed from shelving units to packing stations or loading docks, and vice versa.
AGVs and AMRs are equipped with advanced sensors, software, and machine intelligence. These components facilitate their ability to plan routes around the warehouse while avoiding unexpected obstacles and syncing easily with WMS for interoperation with other robots and humans.
Main benefits realized:
- Improved Internal Logistics: Streamlines the movement of goods within the warehouse, making operations more fluid.
- Reduced Physical Strain on Workers: Automating transport tasks lessens the physical burden on human workers.
- Increased Productivity: Robots can transport items faster and more consistently than human workers.
Robotic warehouse systems employed for inventory management are able to scan and update stock and supply levels, ensuring accurate asset records and assisting in inventory audits. In a robot warehouse this can be done with drones and robots with integrated RFID-scanners, which survey barcodes and tags to update inventory data in real time.
Main benefits realized:
- Real-time Inventory Maintenance: Ensures up-to-date inventory records, essential for accurate order fulfillment and planning.
- Decreased Inventorization Time: Manual methods for inventory verification significantly increase time spent of goods in processing, while automation increases the goods’ throughput.
- Enhanced Data Accuracy: Minimizes human errors in inventory tracking, leading to more reliable data.
Loading and Unloading
Warehouse robotics companies offering freight-based solutions, outfit their automated forklifts and robotic arms with the added capacity for handling heavy loads and lifting. These robots assist in loading goods onto trucks or transport vehicles and unloading incoming goods. Often, they also include compatibility with AS/RS systems to aid in coordination.
Main benefits realized
- Quicker Freight Functions: Goods are transferred through the robotics warehouse much faster via automation than by manual methods.
- Reduced Risk of Injury: Assigning these tasks to automated warehouse robots lowers the risk of injuries associated with heavy lifting.
- Increased Throughput: Enables handling more goods in less time, thus increasing the throughput of the warehouse.
Types of Warehouse Automation Robotics
With integral deployment throughout the warehousing ecosystem, the following warehouse automation robots significantly improve operational efficiency, accuracy, and safety across repository facilities.
- Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs): These mobile robots travel along predefined paths by using infrastructure-based markers/wires. They’re often used for transporting goods within the warehouse, and require some deployment intricacies and facility modifications to begin deliveries.
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): A step more advanced than their AGV predecessors, AMRs can navigate without any external guides. Instead they use advanced sensors and intelligence, to map and route themselves around the facility without assistance. They’re also used mainly for transporting and picking tasks and can be cheaper, easier, and quicker to deploy.
- Articulated Robotic Arms: These stationary, jointed arms, are used for their precision and fine-tuned handling to aid with picking, packing, palletizing, and some assembly functions.
- Goods-to-Person (G2P) Robots: These deliver products to human staff-members, facilitating their picking efforts by reducing the need for workers to travel through the warehouse.
- Drones: In some advanced setups, drones are used for inventory management, flying over the warehouse to scan and record inventory using RFID or barcode technology.
- Collaborative Robots (Cobots): These work alongside human workers to assist in tasks like packing or assembly, designed to safely interact with humans.
- Sorting Robots: These are specialized in sorting items at high speed, often used in e-commerce warehouses where sorting a large variety of items quickly is crucial.
Warehouse automation robotics, for logistical coordination in e-commerce and automation centers, are machines designed to assist with repetitive, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous tasks. Unlike stationary industrial robots known for precision in tasks like assembly or welding, warehouse robots emphasize mobility, autonomy, integration with Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), and adaptability through AI and machine learning. They excel in inventory management, order fulfillment, and item relocation.
These robots’ tasks are diverse, as are their individual types and specializations. For tailored functionalities, each brings their own strengths with which they address their own specialized niche. Together, warehousing robotics along with WMS and robotic warehouse systems come together to create efficient, accurate, and safe operations within warehousing and e-commerce logistics.