Advancing technologies have increased efficiency in numerous industries. Companies are thankful for robotics and how they’ve changed best practices for running a warehouse. What once was a limited technology has become a staple for warehouses worldwide.
Warehouse robots can make life easier for human workers and help them be as efficient as possible. Here’s how warehouse robotics has evolved and what the future holds.
How Has Warehouse Robotics Changed Over Time?
Warehouse robotics has dramatically evolved since its mid-20th-century beginnings. The changing technology has made warehouses safer and more efficient. Here are three ways warehouse robotics has changed to benefit companies worldwide.
Starting the Evolution
Understanding modern warehouse robotics starts with the first innovations. Using robotics in manufacturing and logistics on a wide scale began in 1961 in Ewing Township, New Jersey. General Motors (GM) began using a robotic arm from George Devol, the man who built the first programmable industrial robot. GM paid about $18,000 for the robot and changed the automotive industry.
Devol’s industrial robot may seem primitive in the 21st century, but the machine was crucial in the history of warehouse robotics. The robot, Unimate, transferred die castings onto the car’s body. Unimate improved the safety of GM plants because assembly line workers could harm themselves with toxic fumes from the die-casting transferral. Devol’s Unimate sparked a robotic evolution across auto manufacturing and other industries.
Adding Sensor Technology
Sensors play a significant role in warehouse robotics, letting machines understand their surroundings and act accordingly. Employing sensors gives robots human-like abilities while still keeping their machine identity. Sensor technology is still evolving, as seen in the automotive industry. Sensors help fleet managers make their company safer, considering humans cause most car accidents in the United States. With sensors, autonomous vehicles are a closer reality.
In warehouse robotics, sensor technology has become crucial for similar reasons. Robotics use sensors to navigate the warehouse floor autonomously and perform tasks. Among the most critical advances in this sector has been light detection and ranging (LiDAR). LiDAR technology is essential for robots to create a 3D map and avoid bumping into obstacles. Additionally, they can optimize their routes within the warehouse to remain efficient.
Increased reliance on robots means these systems must have maximum reliability and durability. Downtime significantly impacts efficiency despite implementing robots to improve it. Research shows downtime costs manufacturers about $260,000 per hour and the auto industry about $50,000 per minute. Fortifying warehouse robots to strengthen them has been crucial for their staying power in the 21st century.
Developers have strengthened warehouse robotics by improving their bodies and frames. Metal has proved effective due to its safety, durability and efficiency. Manufacturers have found metal castings to be formidable solutions, with about 90% of all manufactured goods containing them.
How Will Warehouse Robotics Grow in the Future?
The future of warehouse robotics is bright, with a growing market this decade. Facts and Factors research shows the robot as a service (RaaS) global market will grow by 16.5% annually, leading to a $44 billion market by 2028. These four innovations will drive the industry’s growth in the coming years.
Interconnecting the Warehouse
In its infancy, warehouse robotics may work with small sections of the facility. While effective, this limitation can inhibit warehouse employees and their ability to connect with other departments in the building. However, the future of warehouse robotics is bright with evolving technology in connecting machines across large spaces.
Evolving guidance systems will let robots work in every section of the warehouse and increase efficiency. While a fully robot-operated warehouse may be unlikely, robot adoption will increase with e-commerce demand. The European Business Review says the world should see about 50,000 robotic warehouses by 2025, emphasizing how widespread this advanced technology has become.
Expanding Autonomous Mobile Robots
Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) are growing a stronger foothold in warehouses because they build upon automated guided vehicles (AGV). The key difference is that AMRs are even more intelligent with their programming. Warehouses can employ AMRs and let them navigate the floor by themselves. Employees don’t have to train them in navigation, saving time and improving efficiency in the warehouse.
AMR’s evolution has let their responsibility grow in the warehouse. Modern AMRs excel in picking and packing, reducing the burden on human laborers and heightening accuracy in order fulfillment. Even careful human workers might not match the accuracy of AMRs in this task. Many warehouses also employ AMRs in receiving and storage optimization, assisting the company in making the most of its current space.
More warehouses will adopt AMRs this decade to work alongside their human workers. Evolving technology and increased competition will make it more affordable for smaller businesses and startups. The advantages of AMRs are hard to pass up, considering how they boost safety and productivity.
Wielding Robots for Last-Mile Delivery
Last-mile delivery is the last step, albeit a crucial one, to ensure client satisfaction with their purchase. Humans have executed last-mile deliveries since the beginning of package deliveries, but robotics will soon play a more significant role in this step. Some companies have already tested last-mile delivery robots for bringing food and small items to the end user’s doorstep.
For example, Kiwibot has machines delivering food on the University of California, Berkeley campus.
While last-mile delivery robots have existed for a few years, logistics professionals should expect this service to expand worldwide in large cities. The next step for last-mile technology is to make these robots more efficient. TeleRetail, a Swiss company, has developed the Pulse 1 robot to reduce emissions and energy consumption. The Range+, a newer, solar-powered robot, embodies the shift to renewable energy in robotics.
Cutting emissions is a focal point for warehouses and e-commerce as a whole. Packaging, transportation and building energy consumption combine for a detrimental environmental impact, so increasing robotic efficiency is necessary.
Employing More Drones
Expanding robotics in and out of the warehouse will rely on drones. Crewless aircraft has evolved sharply in the last few decades and will only improve with its technology. Warehouses can employ drones for multiple purposes, such as inventory management, inspection and monitoring. Modern drones have cameras and sensors powerful enough to give warehouse managers a real-time look at their stock.
Drones will open the door to expanding warehousing and shipping this decade. With drone technology, shipping companies can easily reach rural areas without using boats or crewed aircraft. Additionally, drones will reduce shipping times and increase customer satisfaction when they can receive their orders in a few hours rather than a few days. Companies like Amazon are heavily investing in this technology.
Taking Modern Warehousing to a New Level
Efficient warehouses are a must, considering today’s e-commerce demand. Shareholders demand well-oiled machines no matter what the company ships worldwide.
With robots, warehouses have increased productivity and reduced downtime thanks to speedier processes. The future of warehouse robotics is bright, with evolving technology pushing warehouses forward.