Warehouse Robots

What is a warehouse robot?

Warehouse robots are autonomous or semi-autonomous machines that assist with material handling and various tasks to streamline the operation of a warehouse.

Robots have a long history in warehouses. They’ve come a long way from their early years as large robotic arms, pre-programmed to perform dangerous or harmful jobs. Robotic technology used in warehouses today has become more sophisticated by tapping into artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). As a result of this journey, warehouse robots have helped usher in a new era of warehouse management through automation.

Warehouse Robotics Illustration

4 Types of Warehouse Robots

Warehouse robots are used for a variety of tasks in a warehouse, with the goal being to increase efficiency, reduce operating costs, and increase worker safety. Some of the most common types of warehouse robots are:

1. Robotic Arms

The robotic arm style of robot has the longest history with manufacturing, dating back to the early years of automation in automotive factories. Over the years, warehouses around the world have adopted robotic arm technology to improve operational efficiency, and now, they are typically implemented at fixed workstations, commissioned to handle repetitive tasks like loading and sorting product.

2. Cobots

Also known as collaborative bots, cobots are designed to work alongside human workers to assist with a variety of warehouse-related tasks. There are two common types of cobots:

  • Meet-Me Bots. This form of cobot cuts down on the amount of travel needed for humans to complete a task. The cobots move within a predetermined area and stop at the worker’s location in order for them to perform the task. Often this is used for picking—where physical goods are picked for shipping.
  • Follow-Me bots. In this case, the robot follows the human worker as they make their way to each location. Once the task is complete, the robot will move on to the next area, and a new robot will go to the worker’s location. For example, a picker will use a follow-me bot to help them collect the items for shipping. Once the follow-me bot is full of inventory, it will automatically move to the packing station while another robot joins the worker where they will continue picking.

3. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR)

Autonomous mobile robots transport larger quantities of product than a cobot can handle. Typically they will feature full shelves of product that can be moved autonomously throughout the warehouse as various items are needed in different areas. These types of robots have had a significant impact on inventory systems.

4. Sorters

While robot arm style robots are capable of sorting product, they are limited by their fixed position. Sorters with the ability to autonomously move to multiple areas of a warehouse increase the amount of space available for sorting; they are lighter weight and more agile and flexible. As the complexity of sorting increases, sorters with AMR capability can make changes to placement and logistics to keep up with productivity requirements.

The Future of Warehouse Design and Warehouse Robots

According to a recent survey by JLL, 54% of respondents state that the greatest impact on warehouse design is the use of robotics and automation. This is especially important as the Direct to Consumer ecommerce business model continues to grow worldwide. More and more, warehouses are springing up to meet the global supply chain demand, and the use of warehouse robots are radically changing the way modern warehouses look and function.

While warehouse robots are here to stay, they are still a long way off from completely replacing human workers.

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