A common question warehouse operators often ask themselves is: “what can we do to further increase productivity and efficiency?” For a while, this challenge has been met with Six Sigma methodologies to identify and eliminate waste in the process. However, one of the biggest sources of waste remains non-value-adding movement and material handling. A new breed of robot has recently emerged that tackles this challenge and is helping warehouses to reach next level productivity and efficiency. -John Santagate, Research Director, IDC
Warehouse management is all about handling materials. Within these facilities, materials come in and go out as they progress through the supply chain. For many such facilities, the process of picking and transport of materials is a highly manual process. A person takes a pick list and pushes a cart from aisle to aisle, rack to rack, and takes the required materials from a shelf and then brings it to the packing station or to various work cells. However, modern robotic technology has emerged that is enabling warehouses to automate part of this process.
This new breed of collaborative robots is designed to work in concert with human operators in the warehouse. Whether it is to support the picking process in e-commerce fulfillment or to move components around for product assembly, there is significant value to be gained by deploying robots to manage the movement of materials throughout the warehouse. The focus here is on process optimization. By taking over the movement component within the process, warehouses are able to free up their people to focus on other work activities that add greater value.
While deploying robots is not appropriate for all scenarios, in the situations where it does make sense, robotic deployments are delivering significant value such as:
As warehouses seek to “do more with less”, turning to robots to support the movement of materials provides an opportunity to increase warehouse capacity without the traditional scaling of the workforce. Robots are tools, meant to increase the capabilities of the warehouse worker.
The emergence of the collaborative mobile robot is giving warehouses a new tool set that can significantly enhance warehouse operations. In addition to the productivity and efficiency value delivered, this technology can also help to improve the broader operation as they become connected devices that can integrate into the business operating systems. There is an abundance of value to be captured by deploying robots in the warehouse. As warehouse owners continue to recognize this value, they will increasingly look to robots to help improve the operation.