Automation opens endless possibilities in warehouse management

Automation is more than a buzzword.  Material handling is changing the nature of the business as robotics and automation offer new possibilities in the areas of enterprise resource planning and warehouse management. This month, Material Handling Network spoke with some of the companies helping meet needs in the industry with automated solutions; the technology they contend is filling gaps and enhancing production results.

‘Friendly innovation’

Kivnon is one of the companies meeting the need for automation. The company offers a wide range of autonomous vehicles (AGVs/AMRs) and accessories for the transport of goods, using magnetic navigation or mapping technologies, that adapt to any environment and industry, according to the business.

The business began in 2009 in Barcelona, according to Sergio Gómez, international director at Kivnon.  Since 2015, Gómez said the market for AGVs has been expanding. “This trend has been boosting for years,” he said.  Currently, the company has a global reach and aims to be accessible to customers, according to Gómez, noting Kivnon’s locations in Europe, North America, and South America. Kivnon started in the automotive industry, helping solve customer issues and needs. “For us, in the beginning, this was a way to introduce ourselves,” said Gómez, adding that this reach is now expanding in other industries. The company now exports to more than 17 countries worldwide, according to the business website. “From the last years and now with COVID, there have been other sectors with interest in AGVs,” Gómez said.

Currently, Kivnon offers a wide range of mobile robotics solutions automating different applications within automotive, food and beverage, logistics and warehousing, manufacturing, and aeronautics industries, according to the business site.  Kivnon offers both standardized and custom products and employs the tagline “friendly innovation.”

“We try to innovate in a friendly manner, we aim for our customers to be able to manage and to modify the AGV,” Gómez said.  The technology is developing so as to work fluidly with other machinery and systems within an organization, according to Gómez. “We invest a lot of time and effort in designing solutions,” he said, noting the advancing technology allows operators to make modifications without the need to go to each individual machine for adjustments.

The company’s products are characterized by “their robustness, safety, precision, and high quality,” according to a Kivnon press release. Each product has been designed with a user-friendly philosophy creating a pleasant, simple to install, and intuitive work experience, the statement said. “Kivnon advises, installs, performs maintenance, and offers exceptional after-sales service. We consolidate our commitment to technological innovation and continuous improvement in all products,” said Mike Kotzian, managing director, in the release.

Gómez said the pandemic has increased the need for flexibility in operations. And a common theme among Kivnon’s customers is the need to move employees into targeted work areas, an area where automation can help, according to Gómez. “Every customer, they are trying to use employees in more value-added work,” he said, adding that the company’s customers in the U.S. market, in particular, are looking to fill labor gaps when possible. “There are some specific countries where our customers don’t have enough of a headcount. They have much more pressure on trying to automate as much as they can,” Gómez said.

The use of AGVs can also help with increased quality of the production process, according to Gómez. “You can know where the AGV is, where it is located. What kind of items it’s transporting,” said Gómez, adding that by implementing the automation, some customers are also able to readdress the layout of the worksite and improve usage.

Trends Gómez envisions include increased connectivity, like AGVs, and communication with other systems. He also projects increased focus on fleet management and the expansion of 5G technology. It will be more common for customers to have many AGVs within a workspace, perhaps hundreds at some locations, according to Gómez.

Automation in new spaces

At Vecna Robotics, Matt Cherewka focuses on strategic partnerships. “In general, the two biggest things that we’re seeing is the maturation of this new flexible automation market,” he said, noting AMRs.  And “a greater emphasis on the economy stemming around that. The adjacent applications,” he said.

Cherewka, director of business development and strategy at Vecna, echoed the idea that focus has honed in on software capabilities and tying systems together. Vecna is known for its automated forklifts and material handling equipment, according to Cherewka. “We’re essentially the drivers people can’t hire right now,” he said.  The company’s solutions frequently are focused on handling a lot of ground-to-ground or repetitive movements so highly skilled operators can focus on higher-value tasks, Cherewka said.

At MODEX this year, Vecna announced the launch of a new product, the Vecna CPJ. The Co-bot Pallet Jack is semi-autonomous and targets facilities and workflows underserved by automation, according to Cherewka. “This new product is more of a touch-and-go automation. You call it to an area and have some interaction with it,” he said. Vecna enabled the technology to be a lower cost, entry-level platform, opening it to operations that historically could not afford automation, Cherewka said.  “This platform was designed with accessibility in mind. It gives end-users more control,” he said.

As to automation trends, Cherewka said within warehousing there are more flexible approaches to automation, for example, multiple AMR solutions in the same building. He also said events of recent years have created industry shifts. “COVID was kind of a reset point for the supply chain industry. I think it’s exposed some flaws in a lot of the offshoring trends that have occurred over the past decades,” Cherewka said.

In addition, he said the pandemic helped govern a complete adoption of e-commerce, driving what had been an adoption curve into a sharp jump. And now the war in Ukraine is also having an impact. “Between COVID and the Ukraine conflict, many are trying to seriously relocate supply chains to be closer to home,” said Cherewka, who added that the impact of e-commerce is also a factor.

He said that not only direct to consumer needs but business-to-business necessitates faster delivery times. “It’s kind of a crazy and exciting time in the supply chains, given labor constraints as well as the high-speed nature” of commerce, Cherewka said.  As material handling companies work to reconfigure and repurpose operations, Cherewka said an adjustable approach will be helpful. “Flexibility and agility are going to be the key moving forward,” he said.

About the Author:

Eileen Mozinski Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 13 years. Email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com  or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen. If your company would like to be featured, email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com  

 

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