With the goal of enhanced productivity and workplace safety, robotic warehousing solutions seem to be on the rise in this post-pandemic market.
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Amazon Launches New Warehouse Robots
Amazon’s innovation blog last month published an entry titled “New Technologies to Improve Amazon Employee Safety”, which focused on four different robotic systems that Amazon’s Robotics and Advanced Technology teams have been developing and conducting trials on. These trials couple Amazon’s innovations with "simple solutions" to make its fulfillment centers safer for its workers, as per Amazon. Three of these robotic systems are mobile robots, which have been contributing massively to Amazon’s warehouse operations sector over the past decade. The hardware and software of these robotic systems cover a wide range of tasks, from transporting totes and pallets across the warehouse to completing tasks that could otherwise be physically taxing for humans. Last year, Amazon spent over US$1 billion on workplace safety procedures, and recruited over 6,200 workers to focus on workplace health and safety. Amazon was one of the first e-commerce companies to really highlight the essential influence of robots in warehouses, with their US$775 million acquisition of Kiva Systems back in 2012.
Walmart Catching Up on Robotic Warehousing
With the goal of enhanced productivity and workplace safety, robotic warehousing solutions seem to be on the rise in this post-pandemic market. Fetch Robotics, a market leader in cloud robotics, last week announced a new integrated case pick-to-pallet solution with supply chain solutions specialists Körber. The new solution dynamically coordinates the flow of warehouse workers and robots, coupling the power of Fetch’s Freight500 and Freight1500 autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) with the optimization competences of Körber’s warehouse management systems. This is expected to augment case picking workflows for facilities of different capacities. Fetch’s AMRs can be combined with Körber’s software platform to optimize distinct order picking, batch picking, and replenishment. Together, the partnership also aims to offer automated pallet-based workflows such as cross docking, put away, replenishment, and returns.
Retail giant Walmart announced earlier this month that it is adding robots to its regional distribution centers that sort, store, retrieve, and pack incoming freight onto pallets. Its partnership with warehouse automation experts Symbotic will place robots and software inside 25 of Walmart’s regional distribution centers. These distribution centers boast up to 5 million square feet of storage space each and can accommodate up to 300,000 SKUs. The initiative is designed to move products from distribution centers to stores with a greater degree of accuracy and speed than ever before. Walmart began testing technological solutions from Symbotic in 2017, and now is deploying the robots in 25 of its 42 regional warehouses across the country. Both Symbiotic and Walmart expect these automation-based refurbishments to not only enhance their fulfillment operations, but also workplace safety.
Ecosystem Enabled Warehouse Enchancement on The Rise
Fetch Robotics’ robust fleet of AMRs can also be used to automate practically any material movement that may require manual movement of material, enhancing workplace safety. This solution can also be deployed through radio-frequency scanners, voice picking, or with vision-based picking solutions such as AR smartglasses. Voice and vision based picking solutions in particular have been proven to be an effective way to enhance workplace safety as they eliminate the need for workers to move their heads and hands to look at handheld devices to locate items in the warehouse while operating forklifts. Utilizing AMRs in a zone-picking environment can potentially allow distribution centers to reduce reliance on manually operated forklifts, especially among overfilled areas, and greatly reduce workplace accidents.
Surges in consumer spending, especially via e-commerce channels, has increased demands on distribution centers. Distribution centers have been dealing with longstanding labor challenges such as onboarding and retaining skilled workers to adjust to seasonal shifts, as well as unforeseen surges in demand and relying on temporary workers to operate forklifts. Each year, over 11% of all forklifts are involved in a workplace injury, and a single work site injury can cost facility operators an estimated US$150,000. Adoption of robotics and automation technologies is proving to be increasingly imperative in warehouse operations.