Robots help streamline warehouse operations

Warehousing industry has huge automation potential, and artificial intelligence-driven robotics technologies are helping with labor shortages, rapid online sales growth, and greater demands for faster deliveries, according to a ProMatDX 2021 session. See 7 reasons for AI-enabled intralogistics robots.

By Mark T. Hoske April 16, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • AI-enabled robots help warehouse operations.
  • Lower risk, faster, more flexible warehousing is possible with AI-enabled robotics.
  • Warehouse robotics can create a more appealing, efficient work environment.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, resilience helps keep businesses going and even growing. Robotics enabled with artificial intelligence (AI) is a low-risk option to ensure social distancing and employee safety and allow business continuity despite labor shortages, explained Mark Messina, chief operating officer, Americas, Geek+ America, in a ProMatDX session called “Making the shift: Adapting robotics to streamline your operations.”

Seven reasons AI-enabled robots help warehouse operations

Messina suggested seven reasons AI-enabled robotics helps in warehouse (intralogistics) operations.

1. An increasingly unpredictable market makes it difficult to adjust logistics operations built on fixed infrastructure.

2. Robotics and AI bring flexibility to the supply chain.

3. With AI-driven robotics solutions, many time-consuming and redundant tasks of warehouse employees, like walking to find goods, can be reduced by letting sorting staff stay at workstations while robots bring the goods to them.

4. Robots that are controlled by software that manages movements with intelligent scheduling and task distribution can flexibly move to and from the shelves of ordered goods autonomously, which streamlines operations.

5. Without needing fixed guidance systems on warehouse floors (other than simple QR code stickers), implementation is easy with robots and shelving racks deliverable to almost any location at short notice.

6. Scalability platforms meet fluctuating demand, so businesses can adjust the number of workstations, robots, and working hours to meet peak periods, avoid disruptions and secure business continuation.

7. AI-driven robots are a good investment as it allows businesses to scale operations in line with business growth and avoid slow return on investments (ROIs) that can be characterized by some big-iron, bolted to the floor storage and motion control, like static shelving and conveyors.

More appealing, efficient work environment

Market realities are forcing warehouse spaces to be adept, with considerations about flexibility and peak demand with designs that can pack a lot of inventory in a compact space, increasing real estate utilization and lower capital and operating costs, Messina said. The robots that roll the racks and move bins collaborate with human operators to speed flow of goods.

Because operators work around the perimeter of storage, more storage can be used for goods; robots take less space than humans, who can achieve 600 picks per hour. Also, the software can be gamified to create incentives among operators, who avoid walking up to 10 miles per day and risking repetitive injuries in many traditional warehouses.

Warehouse robots: Easier installation, reconfiguration

More robots and sortation can be added as needed with software analyzing and learning inventory and orders, using AI to optimize pick rates, order speed, and other parameters, Messina said, improving over time. Installation time varies, 18-30 months for a more traditional heavy iron setup, as Messina characterized it, compared to 2-5 months with flexible, AI-enabled robotics.

Also, because robots operate only when working, as opposed to some conveyors which may operate the same for 100 packages as 1,000, they are environmentally friendly and easier to install, reconfigure, and maintain.

Messina added that scalability makes the investment more flexible over the 10-year lifecycle for such systems.

ProMatDX online digital show, April 12-16, is organized by MHI, the material handling, logistics and supply chain association.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

KEYWORDS: Robots for warehouses, artificial intelligence (AI)


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Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.