Industrial Robots Evolve to Meet Warehouse Challenges


Until recently, industrial robots have been relative strangers to the warehouse distribution industry. But new developments in robot technology, specifically robotic software, vision systems, sensors, and EOAT, have brought about a new era.

Thanks to these advancements, robots are now capable of offering distribution companies much more intelligent and flexible solutions.

The warehousing industry has been quick to embrace the new and improved robotic technology. According to a study by Paul Kellet, RIA Market Analysis Director, warehouse distribution is one of the most promising emerging markets for industrial robots.

Factory Handling Versus Warehouse Handling:

Robotics is not the only rapidly evolving industry. Warehouse distribution has undergone many changes too. The variety and number of SKU's has increased dramatically in recent years. Cycle times have shortened considerably because of the rapid and constant changes in product size, shape, and packaging. In addition, the anatomy of pallets has switched from homogenous to largely heterogeneous as the demand for mixed, direct-to-store pallets increases. 

Previously, industrial robots were best suited for factory material handling situations where one similarly shaped product is palletized or de-palletized. Luckily, recent advancements allow robots to lend a hand even in the fast-paced and ever-changing warehouse distribution industry.

Robotic Tooling to Fit Warehouse Needs:

In order to handle a wide variety of product sizes and shapes, robots in warehouse distribution centers require extremely flexible end-of-arm-tooling. Advancements in robotic gripper technology make it possible for robots to accommodate a mix of different packaging materials and product dimensions. This allows robots to load and unload mixed SKU pallets. Robotic grippers are able to handle parts with care and dexterity - maintaining proper pallet balance and protecting products from damage.

Software for Distribution Applications:

Robot manufacturers such as FANUC Robotics and Motoman have created application-specific software that allows material handling robots to provide intelligent solutions for distribution centers. This software offers algorithms (preplanned and/or real-time) which make it possible for the robot to adjust to different products, varying alignments, pallet balance, mixed pallet arrangements, and any unplanned changes (that's where the real-time software option steps in).

[Some of the software options include FANUC ROBOGUIDE HandlingPRO, PalletTool, Random Order Pallet Tool, MotoPallet EG, EasyPallet Pendant, and EasyLoad Pendant.

Developments in Vision and Sensing Technology:

Another key element in the robot technology evolution is vision and sensing. Vision systems (such as FANUC iRVision) for robots have become more reliable, affordable, and easy to use. Robot vision is an invaluable tool when it comes to locating and positioning products in warehouse settings. Sensors give robots even greater delicacy when handling and placing products. Together, vision and sensing technology allow robots to maintain safety and product quality standards.  

Interested in learning more about robotic warehousing? Contact the experts at RobotWorx online or at 740-251-4312. 

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