In the era of Industry 4.0 and eCommerce, greater productivity and better service are in high demand – and at lower cost. How is this possible? Certainly not with traditional warehouse design. Instead, digitization is transforming logistics, at the interface of a great many tasks and processes. Modern robotic technologies in particular are making huge strides.
Transport robots for warehouse solutions
We immediately think of Amazon here. The logistics giant is using more than 30,000 warehouse robots today. Instead of a worker, it is an intelligent vehicle that goes to the shelves and brings them to the order picking area. The employee need only take out the item they require. That is how Amazon reduced their operational costs by 20 percent, according to the Frankfurter Rundschau .
Supplier Element Logic uses a similar approach with its Autostore System . Special plastic bins are stored in a gigantic scaffolding framework. Mobile transport robots travel above them. When an order arrives, they fetch the box with the desired product and take it to the order picker for further processing.
DHL Supply Chain is currently testing an interactive solution with its LocusBots . These robots help warehouse staff find and transport goods. When they receive an order, the bots go to the corresponding shelf, where an employee scans the product and puts it in the robot's bin for transport to the order picker.
Inventory robots and drones
Robots are used for other things besides transporting goods, such as for inventory. Walmart is currently planning a system using inventory robots. These are equipped with a camera and move through the aisles to scan the shelves. The data collected informs logistics of stock levels in real time, leaving employees free for other tasks such as customer support.
The drones that are such a hot topic these days are also finding their way into inventory, because goods and holding areas can be viewed quickly and easily from above. These fliers are also useful for internal logistics, moving goods from one place to another, particularly when speed is important. Unlike their earthbound counterparts, however, drones bring with them higher safety concerns due to their more complex and therefore more delicate control systems.
Side by side: Human and robot
Tasks that once required many hands and feet can now be achieved more efficiently by people and robots working together, under the catchphrase human-robot collaboration . This is not about replacing people, but about actively working together. Robots take on the monotonous and time-consuming work steps, while their human counterparts can focus on more demanding tasks. This boosts productivity and reduces error rates.