Automating simple, routine processes frees up workers for other tasks and reduces human error. A common reaction to the increase of automation is the fear of being replaced—but a more optimistic outlook sees robots enhancing human productivity through collaboration, rather than outright replacement.
Skilled workers are in high demand, so it’s important to make the most of the talent you have. Why waste an experienced employee’s valuable time hunting for tools or checking inventory?
ROBi, which stands for Robotically Optimized and Balanced inventory, aims to solve this problem by automating inventory and routine cycle counts to save time and enhance accuracy in automotive manufacturing and warehouse environments.
The wheeled mobility platform, built by Fetch Robotics, can dynamically avoid collisions using optical sensors, slowing down at blind corners using occlusion detection. ROBi travels a programmable route and generates a 3D map of the facility. RFID sensors on the bot capture tag data from multiple angles and directions. This helps account for the height of an item from the floor, stacked products, and depth on the shelf. The robot transfers the collected data to a cloud-based asset management system allowing workers to conduct digital searchers for the items they need.
Autonomous mobile robots also offer new opportunities for inventory monitoring. When combined with RFID-tagged products and equipment, these machines can now conduct their own inventory sweeps autonomously at schedules determined by the warehouse.
"People might typically do inventory counts every three months, but they can now do it every two hours with real-time data to make better storage and layout decisions about their facility. These inventory robots feature three RFID interrogators mounted for optimal coverage and can reliably and consistently detect tagged products from up to 25 feet away.
Robotic applications not only reduce the need for manual inventory counts but also offers real-time mapping to managers can easily visualize product storage. For example, the robot might identify storage and placement that is leading to inefficient movements of machinery or people. In another case, it may better identify goods that are nearing expiration dates.
While an RFID robot sells for approximately $50,000, the typical customer saves up to a million per year in labor reduction, waste reduction, and inventory optimization. "We can start giving customers those insights about how to lay out their facility or identify problems and challenges.
Product Picking Robots
These machines typically carry carts and can be programmed to travel flexible routes in the warehouse to move product between workers and stations. workers have to walk some distance to the picking area, find the good that they want and then walk some distance back. It’s really about eliminating walking as that typically represents half the time of the picking task. Improvements in the technology and in sensing are enabling rapid and easy deployment. A simple computer interface enables anyone with basic computer skills to program and manage the robot.
Self Driving Forklifts
Forklifts are also becoming increasingly complex and intelligent with full autonomy for some applications. They are well-suited for operations whose load-handling processes provide little-added value, are repetitive and involve long distances. The latest models feature a navigation laser, front and rear scanners, a 3D camera and visual and acoustic warning indicators that enable it to safely move around a warehouse in the vicinity of human workers.
The platform-based logistics solution enables the forklift to know where goods are and when they are arriving. It can then calculate the loading process, seek the optimal route, assign tasks to itself, collaborate with other forklifts, and send confirmation of placement and movement to the ERP system.
Lightweight unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs) are already being equipped with RFID-scanning technology to offer real-time inventory visibility in the warehouse. Sensors and algorithms enable collision prevention and an intuitive design that enables it to adopt flight patterns to unique layouts and to navigate cluttered environments. Some safety concerns are still being worked out but drones are expected to be in normal use in warehouses and in parcel delivery in the near future.