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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 have become the preferred option for material handling in various sectors such as manufacturing, assembly, warehouses, and distribution centers. As large, fixed machines with the capability to lift and transport hefty loads, they play a vital role in improving efficiency, precision, and flexibility in numerous industrial applications. However, beyond these operational advantages, the real transformative impact lies in enhancing safety. By performing hazardous tasks and tackling high-risk jobs, robotic arms actively keep human workers out of danger zones. This substantial improvement in workplace safety is a significant benefit that resonates with organizations and employees alike. What’s more, these advanced machines are easily reprogrammable, allowing for quick adaptation to new tasks. This inherent agility makes them invaluable for businesses navigating the ever-changing demands of the modern marketplace. Their adaptability, paired with robust construction, ensures a level of operational resilience that is key in today’s competitive landscape. With the integration of robotic arms, companies not only have the opportunity to elevate productivity and quality but also instill a culture of safety and innovation.Photo of a robot arm
  2. Mobile robots: Mobile robots are transforming business operations across various industries. These autonomous, wheeled or tracked machines handle tasks from material transport to repetitive jobs, boosting efficiency and allowing employees to focus on complex work. A key advantage of mobile robots is their impact on workplace safety, particularly in high-risk environments. By handling dangerous tasks, they reduce injury risks, enhancing security and comfort at work. This also leads to less error and re-work, ensuring higher quality and smoother workflow, essential in today’s competitive market. Mobile robots’ adaptability and customizability make them agile solutions for businesses adapting to market trends. Their integration symbolizes a forward-thinking approach, optimizing operations, promoting employee well-being, and providing a competitive edge. In essence, mobile robots are more than a technological advancement; they’re a step toward a more dynamic, safe, and thriving business future.Vecna automated forklift
  3. Collaborative robots: Collaborative robots, or cobots, represent a significant advancement in automation, particularly for small to mid-sized manufacturers. Designed to work alongside human workers, these less powerful robots can safely execute tasks like packaging and sorting. Their introduction into the workplace enhances efficiency, enabling businesses to achieve more within shorter time frames. Cobots also have the potential to take on more complex and hazardous tasks, further improving workplace safety. The real appeal of cobots lies in their ability to balance automation with human oversight, maintaining a level of personal control while still reaping the benefits of mechanized operations. This unique blend of collaboration and automation translates into increased ROI, making cobots a valuable asset for businesses striving to boost productivity and safety. They are more than just tools; they symbolize a smart, modern approach to balancing human creativity with technological precision.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+ axes 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 the 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

How to choose the right warehouse robot for you 

A strategic approach to starting the journey to material handling automation should begin with a comprehensive evaluation of your operational landscape. This critical phase encompasses an in-depth analysis of operational challenges, the exploration of viable solutions, the identification of potential pilot locations, and a meticulous examination of the return on investment that can be garnered from the automation of your material handling processes. 

Categorizing automation solutions based on payload size and type is the next foundational step. Begin by looking at whether your workflow involves the movement of orders and materials through pallets, bins, or carts. Determining the average dimensions and weight of these payloads helps you refine the selection of viable material handling equipment. This should primarily focus on processes that are labor-intensive, maximizing the impact of automation. 

Another pivotal aspect of initiating the automation journey is to prioritize functions that have substantiated case studies and success narratives. Examples of such functions include dock-to-stock operations, order picking, packaging for outbound shipments, and the facilitation of replenishment and deliveries to pick/pack lines, kitting, and value-added services. Numerous other extensively documented use cases are accessible, especially within manufacturing scenarios. These span from Kanban replenishment and lineside operations to kitting milking runs, WIP (Work in Progress) management, and Assembly Line Delivery. 

Rather than attempting to tackle the most challenging problems head-on, it’s best to focus on the most scalable opportunities – those that can be easily replicated once shown to be successful. Avoid customization (at least initially) because it can be much more expensive and usually has a longer payback period. You also want to be aware of space constraints because robots function a lot differently than people – adaptations might be required to accommodate the spatial requirements of automated equipment. 

Make sure you allocate time to research and review as many case studies as you can find on automation in industries like your own. It’ll help you identify the use cases with the highest potential for return and the most successful implementation. All in all, you can help to optimize your own journey into material handling automation careful planning, prioritization of scalable opportunities, and a holistic understanding of equipment, space, and return dynamics. 

Warehouse robot costs and how RaaS changes the game 

The cost of implementing a warehouse robot system can vary greatly, influenced by numerous factors including the size and complexity of the system, the type of robot or automation equipment used, and the level of customization required. Basic systems, such as a simple robotic arm used for picking and packing tasks, may cost between $50,000 to $100,000. Meanwhile, more advanced systems like Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) can range up to $300,000 or more, with fully automated warehouse systems reaching into the millions. 

In addition to the initial purchase price, there are other costs associated with warehouse robot implementation. These include installation and maintenance expenses, software and programming costs, and training and educating staff. The latter is particularly important, not only to improve the functionality of the robots but also to make the human workforce more comfortable with automation. Furthermore, integrating warehouse management software can add to the overall system’s cost. Though this may seem like an extra expense, it can pay off in the long run by enhancing productivity, efficiency, and accuracy. 

A contemporary alternative to traditional pricing is Robot as a Service (RaaS), which mirrors Software as a Service (SaaS) models. RaaS eliminates high upfront costs and consolidates all fees into a low, regularly scheduled payment. This model offers numerous advantages, including the faster realization of Return on Investment (ROI), shifting from Capital Expenditure to Operational Expenditure, and avoiding downstream cost surprises. RaaS requires a multi-term commitment, such as a 3-year or 5-year contract, and incorporates maintenance, support, and service costs. This strategic approach speeds up decision-making, permits a more efficient use of capital, and ensures alignment between the automation provider and the warehouse operator. 

Vecna offers a wide range of AMR pallet handling solutions designed to optimize warehouse operations with automation and improve overall throughput. Exclusively available via the RaaS model, Vecna’s solutions enable fast deployment for demanding warehouse workflows. By adopting this innovative pricing strategy, customers can deploy more automated systems quickly without tying up capital in a single lump sum payment. 

Overall, the cost of a warehouse robot system can fluctuate widely depending on specific features and requirements. Basic systems may be available from tens of thousands of dollars, while the most advanced systems could reach into the millions. The evaluation should consider not just the initial purchase but also the ongoing costs such as installation, maintenance, software integration, and potential future benefits.  

To explore how automation can be tailored to your facility, 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.