Robots in warehouse: Are Cobots the future?

Cobots or “collaborative robots” are robots intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. Designed to operate autonomously or with limited guidance, cobots differs strikingly from prevailing robots. With the features of “self-learning”, these highly flexible machines are to give an edge in warehouse.

With companies offering a fast-paced delivery to its end-users, there is a constant pressure on logistics service providers to maintain the demand-supply chain. In such a dynamic scenario, obviously, companies are more willing to go for automating manual processes in their warehouses to meet end-users expectations. Here a question arises – will robots eat jobs of humans in warehouses or work as an ally to increase their efficiency? Let’s find the answer to this burning question and explore automation options available for the modern warehouses.          

Automation has become a need of an hour            

Stocking and storage in warehouses become imperative and that’s when warehouses and distribution centres form an integral part of the supply chain movement. But is the setting up of distribution centres with manpower assigned to the job enough to derive the desired output considering the time constrain? It may or may not be the only solution, especially to keep pace with the ongoing boom of e-commerce ventures. Apropos managing these centres with automated resources and techniques could be the essential strategy in this fast-paced developing ecosystem.

In the warehouse or a distribution centre, automation is ideally used to make gains upon existing processes by improving efficiency, speed, reliability, safety, accuracy and eventually reducing the overall cost of operation. And thus, a distribution centre fulfilment requires a highly effective blend of automation technologies to manage and control picking, packing and shipping costs among others. Automation isn’t a stagnant field. In fact, it’s constantly evolving with newer technologies and trends. Some of the most important and latest trends in warehouse automation that the industry across the globe has seen include:

‘Cobots’ to help warehouse workers in fulfilling cumbersome tasks

Cobots, or “collaborative robots” are specially designed to ease human-machine interface and enhance security in the system. Contrary to the popular theory of robots replacing humans in the workplace, cobots, in reality, are capable of working with human workers in the same area and manage risks without overpowering.

Like traditional robotics elements working in warehouses, cobots work to automate a variety of processes, from counting to sorting to reporting and beyond. They are also able to work seamlessly even within the most established warehouse operations if leveraged strategically. Over a period of time, more and more warehouses are getting accustomed to implementing collaborative robots into their day-to-day operations.

Autonomous Drones for Stock Counting

Drones are the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles designed to perform the tasks of surveillance and supervision. Easier to manage and convenient to track the inventory counts, if equipped with GPS, RFID, OCR, and barcode readers, they can fly overhead to quickly locate and identify assets that have been tagged in a warehouse easily. With the usage of drones, several companies’ effectiveness and efficiency of the warehouse inventory cycle count have significantly improved.

Warehouse Execution Systems as the new entrant

The newbie in the market as compared to Warehouse Management System (WMS) and Warehouse Control System (WCS), a Warehouse Execution System (WES) is an extension of the previously used applications and performs the role of both to an extent. A small or mid-sized omnichannel company may benefit more from a WES than a WCS or a WMS alone because it helps to manage fulfilment both to consumers and to stores. It has been observed that a WES has helped companies in regulating automation and optimizing the manual process, thus reducing staff requirement drastically besides centralizing production operations to lower-cost areas.  

What the future holds?

Today enterprises are investing in automated systems to replace menial tasks performed by humans with robotics and automated systems to increase efficiency, safety and speed. It is believed that over the next few years, the warehouse execution will likely include artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities such as cognitive computing, internet of things (IoT), big data and machine learning along with automation control knowledge on a much larger scale than what it is now. It is also anticipated that the increasing use of digital technologies like AI and Blockchain will further revolutionize the warehouse operations.

Whether a part of a larger supply chain or in itself, technology will continue to grow undoubtedly, but the benefits of these tools are principally dependent on its adaptation and optimization.

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