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Automated Robotics; the Future of Logistics.
Automated Robotics; the Future of Logistics.

Automated Robotics; the Future of Logistics.

Added to MTDCNC by KUKA Robotics on 17 February 2017

A number of key factors prevail that support the more widespread adoption of robotics technologies within the logistics market. In an ever-increasingly competitive market, process improvement, increased product / quality output and cost savings are key differentiators.

As consumer demand increases, the employment of automated systems becomes a necessity, especially when we consider that the logistics industry, especially so within an FMCG context, requires operational activity 24/7. Human unreliability becomes the perennial Achilles Heel.

Processes within a logistics/warehousing environment can be physically demanding, repetitive and even tedious. We humans tire, we fall ill and can incur injury as a result of performing repetitive tasks, which as a result can have a negative impact on costs, or fines for the employer.

The introduction of collaborative robotics has, in certain circumstances, improved process throughput as a result of robot/human collaboration. Though if we explore the possibility of a complete automated operational scenario, the implications are significant. An environment that is faster, safer, more productive and cost effective.

Recent robotic developments at KUKA have seen the introduction of robotic cells that can operate independently. For example the KMR (KUKA mobile robot) will familiarise itself with its surroundings via autonomous navigation. Fixed robotic solutions quickly reach their limits within any given task. However, collision free path planning software, coupled with its unlimited manoeuvrability, shorten throughput times and reduce non-productive time. The KMR opens up entirely new operational concepts and cost effectiveness; reduced logistics costs.

Combine the KMR with KUKA’s iiWA (intelligent industrial work assistant) and you have a mobile robotic cell with a reach of 82cm (max) and payload capability of 14kgs (max) making it the ideal solution for large area automation in the logistics sector. More so when we also consider the advances that are being made in bin picking capabilities and vision tracking.

The IoT and Industry 4.0 for enhanced flexibility and response will also feature, that is certain. Consider picks sent directly to robotic cells; improvements in order fulfilment rates and the elimination of data entry errors.

Though we must be mindful of all aspects of the logistics environment if we are to consider a completely automated scenario.

Palletising features predominantly in the logistics market. If we consider human capabilities of repetitive task completion associated with manual handling, compared to automated systems, robotics are certainly more sustainable. Let’s consider pallet building.

Recent advances at KUKA have identified ways in which industrial palletising robots are able to operate independently of guarding. Programmed to perform an A to B movement; lifting goods from one pallet and placing on another, the cell is able to work amongst humans.

Whilst we are highlighting what the future of logistics and robotics may hold, we must consider that there will always exist the need for human intervention.

KUKA’s industrial palletising robot is powerful and versatile providing the upmost in precision and repeatability, capable of up to 56 cycles per minute with a reach of 1.8m. Impossible for any human to replicate or maintain, the cell is ideal for load and offload scenarios.

The above scenarios address the physical comparisons between man and robot, but what about the comparable costs of human versus robot. Is there a tipping point at which the cost of outsourcing staff versus an in house automated system is warranted? Well, yes, there is. One robot can effectively replicate what three humans across three shifts can do, faster and more accurately. Also consider the reduction in health and safety constraints or the need to hire management staff.

So a marriage between logistics and robotics, whilst in some circumstances is already in its infancy, is set to evolve drastically. The logistics of the future is in no doubt, automated. Advancements in robotics dictate so.

But let’s not write off humans completely. The existence of collaborative robotic cells means that in some circumstances, tasks can be shared. The physical capabilities of robotics v humans, are second to none. Though thought processing, sight and smell (whilst no doubt being developed) still sit within the remit of the human.

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