Warehouse Automation, Step by Step at Modex Show 2020

More and more people are interested in robots, but successfully incorporating them requires more than just making the purchase.

What else other than the robots do you need to consider to have a successful incorporation of robots? This was the key question by moderator Matt Kulp of St. Onge Company in the session, “Warehouse Automation: Beyond the Robot” in the Emerging Technology Theater.
 
“It is really easy to say it can’t work. It is more difficult to figure out how it can work,” said Kulp.

But, MHI Industry Group, The Robotics Group (TRG), has made it a mission to take the difficult route and make it easier for others to take that path.

“Tech is changing and you have to change with it to be a leader in the industry.”
 
The three panelists at the education session were: Greg Doppler of Cornerstone Specialty Wood Products, LLC; John Sloan of Legacy Platform; and Fergal Glynn of 6 River Systems, Inc.
 
They discussed five key areas that were identified by TRG as key components of a successful implementation of an automation project:
1.         Engineering and design fundamentals
2.         Software integration
3.         Safety considerations and risk assessment
4.         Economic and ROI considerations
5.         Employment and labor
 
According to Fergal, the design fundamentals that should be considered when implementing warehouse robots consist of three parts: empowering the associate, prioritizing flexibility and data visibility.

“We believe that people are going to be very important in the warehouse for many more years to come,” he said. So, the design should take that into account, plus it should be flexible and must support data visibility.
 
When it comes to safety, there are two kinds, said Fergal. “You have being safe versus you have feeling safe. As you are building out these systems you have to get the right balance.” 

He gave the examples of programming robots to slow down around corners even if they are capable of going faster and dealing with one-way aisles – when the human is going the wrong way.  Or, said Sloan, as robots start to move faster, how do you prevent them from colliding?
 
Also, you have to be aware of the automation paradox. “The more you automate something, the more important the role of the human becomes in supporting that automation,” said Fergal.
 
Doppler brought some perspective into the relationship and interest levels of automation and humans when he shared that big companies are bringing in both.

You have to be aware of the automation paradox. “The more you automate something, the more important the role of the human becomes in supporting that automation

“They need people to run these things,” he explained. But when figuring out the ROI, you have to look at what the “I” looks like and what type of “R” that is going to generate.

One of the biggest considerations is whether your automated solutions are capable of working together, which is starting to happen more often, now. Different pieces of technology talking to each other, said Fengal. Robots are sharing common language and programming language, added Doppler. “Things are changing in this industry!”

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