Warehouse Robots Provide Crucial Link In Supply Chain

Warehouse Robots Provide Crucial Link In Supply Chain

5.28.20

Rich Blake, senior contributor at Forbes, highlighted Vecna Robotics’ autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) as a critical link in supply chains – especially during the Covid-19 pandemic where most of the country was on lockdown and e-commerce demand is spiking.  

One of the main forces driving this trend – a shortage of labor – might seem outdated. Yet even in the current workforce environment the demand for warehouse material handlers remains insatiable. Major ground transportation players, besieged by a spike in home deliveries, still are struggling to staff thousands of vacant handler positions (toting, sorting, picking, packing) while simultaneously pushing more into automation. 

As of mid-May, LogisticsIQ stood by its estimate: “Automated material handling equipment is increasingly seen as the way forward,” the report said, citing safety issues, operational efficiencies, more widely available/affordable technology and rising customer expectations as among the other factors driving warehouse automation. In addition to this companies now need to incorporate social distancing in their facilities. 

Impervious to disease, available 24/7, robots were called upon to fill in gaps in these facilities owing to distancing and worker shortages. Warehouse workers grappled with quirkier peak times involving all kinds of bulky goods, while also doing their best to gear up, sanitize spaces, keep apart and keep pace with leaner crews.

As the work flows, the Vecna Robotics’ treadmill-sized robotic tug strategically and patiently navigates along sprawling concrete floors with three or four carts in tow, picking up and dropping off items for shipping, in exquisitely choreographed fashion, owing to an intelligent AI-system feeding off real-time data. This throughput-enhancing reconfiguration frees staffers who used to drive the carts, a mindless assignment involving a string of unproductive stops and starts and short-haul trips – and lots of waiting around.

With the robot enduring the slow, tedious cart-trolley-driver detail, handlers instead can be reallocated to other parts of the operation, doing things robots can’t, such as flagging and fixing a routing mistake.

“When transporting non-conveyables, material handlers frequently would sit in a queue waiting to load or unload, not the best use of their time,” Theobald explained. “Turns out, robots can wait around just as well as people.”

It’s not just that material handlers are being moved to higher-level tasks; the simultaneous activities of the robots and humans are being optimized in a sort of synchronized chaos abetted by Vecna Robotics’ AI-enabled “Pivotal” orchestration software system, using visual maps and real-time data to coordinate and assign tasks in a manner that maximizes all the pieces in play – humans, robots, existing automation and regular equipment e.g. forklifts. Also, Vecna Robotics’ software can automate material handling equipment, like palletizers now being called upon to move heavier items.

Read the full Forbes article here.