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Warehouse robots for material handling have become increasingly vital to distribution and manufacturing leaders as they look to stay ahead of the competition by leveraging new technologies. These machines have become a highly reliable way to increase the efficiency and safety of warehouse operations. Commonly used workflows include order picking, loading products onto pallets, and transporting them to their designated area. They can complete a variety of repetitive tasks, freeing up valuable human resources for higher-level activities.  

Modern-day warehouse robots come with sophisticated sensors that detect obstacles and prevent accidents or missteps, further enhancing the safety of warehouses. In contrast to previous generations of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) that can only transport product from A to B based on fixed routes and rules, these modern autonomous vehicles, can adapt to their environment and adjust operating behaviors in real-time, thereby requiring less human intervention than ever before. 

There are several types of robots commonly used in material handling today, including: 

  1. Industrial robot arms: Robotic arms are the go-to choice for material handling in manufacturing, assembly, warehouses, and distribution centers. They’re large, fixed machines that can lift and move heavy loads, improving efficiency, precision, and flexibility. But the real game-changer is safety: robotic arms keep workers out of harm’s way by taking on hazardous tasks and high-risk jobs. Plus, they’re easily reprogrammed for new tasks, making them an agile solution for businesses that need to adapt to changing demands. With robotic arms, companies can boost productivity and quality, all while keeping their employees safe. Photo of a robot arm
  2. Mobile robots: Mobile robots are revolutionizing the way businesses operate. These wheeled or tracked machines move around a facility, handling everything from material transport to mundane tasks. They increase efficiency and productivity, allowing employees to focus on more complex work. Plus, they reduce error, re-work, and risk rates, improving safety for employees in high-risk environments. By taking on dangerous tasks, mobile robots reduce the risk of injury, letting employees work more comfortably and efficiently. With these advantages, mobile robots are a valuable tool for businesses looking to stay ahead in an ever-changing market. Vecna automated forklift
  3. Collaborative robots: Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are a great solution for businesses that want to automate with human oversight. These smaller, less powerful robots work alongside humans, safely performing tasks like packaging and sorting. Cobots boost efficiency, making it possible for businesses to get more done in less time. They’re applicable to small to mid-sized manufacturers, offer increased ROI, and can handle complex and dangerous tasks. With unlimited potential, cobots are a valuable solution for businesses looking to increase efficiency, productivity, and safety while keeping human oversight in the loop. Man next to a robot arm assembling parts
  4. Picking robots: Gone are the days of manual material handling and inspection tasks with the rise of picking robots. These vision-guided robot arms use cameras and image processing software to accurately pick and place objects, sort and inspect materials, and more. Picking robots offer improved accuracy, increased process speed, and flexibility to accommodate multiple product changes, making them a valuable tool for businesses that need to adapt quickly. They also offer ergonomic injury reduction, cost efficiency, and minimal floor space requirements, and can be customized to suit various industries and applications. Invest in picking robots to improve efficiency, accuracy, and productivity while minimizing costs and reducing the risk of ergonomic injuries. A robotic arm adding products into a box
  5. Gantry robots: Gantry robots are the ultimate solution for heavy-duty manufacturing, material handling, welding, and painting tasks. Mounted on a gantry or overhead structure, these large, multi-axis robots offer 3+ axis of movement of almost any length, making them scalable and suitable for handling light to heavy/hanging loads. One of the key advantages of gantry robots is their flexibility and efficiency due to linear axes scalability. They are also inexpensive, as gearbox and motor can be sized according to range of motion and speeds. With these benefits, gantry robots are a valuable investment for businesses looking to improve efficiency and scalability while minimizing costs. Photo of a light payload gantry

All of these robots have their own unique features, capabilities, and limitations, and the best type of robot for a specific material handling task will depend on the specific application and requirements. The best way to get started with warehouse robots is to isolate those highly repetitive tasks that deliver the most value to your operation that also don’t require a significant degree of human skill to accomplish. We also encourage companies to avoid corner cases and workflows that will require a high degree of customization. Instead, focus on those workflows that are well established with robotics solutions today. And start small with one high value workflow instead of thinking that you have to disrupt an entire operation in order to get started with robotics.  

For more information about what a warehouse robotics journey looks like, go to our From No Bot to Robot page or watch our recorded webinar series on this topic, or you can contact us today to schedule a consultation with a warehouse robotics expert.