Here’s How Robots Make Material Handling More Efficient

Robots have taken root in several industries. In the past decade, innovations and advancements have been implemented improved material handling operations. In 2017, the global sale of robots hit a
five-year peak, increasing by 30% for a total of 381,335 units. How are robots being used around the globe to make material handling more efficient?

Improved Planning and Adjustment

Planning and adjusting material routes has long been difficult and costly. Previous solutions have been inflexible to adaptations or expansions. Robots, on the other hand, can use sensors, infrared technology and GPS to guide themselves around a building or warehouse automatically. You may have heard of Tug, a robot that can transport medicine across hospitals to the intended doctors. The bot is also being used in hotels to deliver items like soap and fresh towels to guests.

Robots can plan more than the most efficient routes. With predictive analysis, data-mining tools scour information faster than a human, piecing together patterns. Hospitals and insurance providers can use predictive analysis to detect chances of fraud with each claim, without the need for an employee to look over files. This type of fast-paced data collection and analysis can lead to improved material handling in a variety of industries.

Reduced Training and Turnover

Training new employees can be an expensive endeavor. According to one 2016 study, the average cost to hire a new worker is $4,129, with an average of 42 days to fill the position. Finding quality labor can be a difficult task, and is one of the most prolific challenges across industries. The problem equates to a lot of money and downtime each year that could be prevented through the integration of robotics.

Adding automated robots to your operations won't replace human labor. Instead, it can help manage shortages and free up time for employees to engage in more meaningful and engaging work. Bots can be programmed to move pallets, pick items, pack boxes and more. Co-bots — collaborative robots — can work alongside humans without presenting any safety risk. These versatile bots, which can be coded to complete multiple operations, are already in use in factories for Ford, Amazon and Ocado.

Real-Time Management Tools

Sensor and tracking equipment has become highly reformed, allowing businesses to track a complex network of operations down to a single truck. If a driver were to make an unexpected stop or the vehicle would break down, an alert is sent out automatically. Real-time management allows you to assess current handling efforts and put steps in place to reduce congestion and improve efficiency.

One example of real-time tracking is smart roads. These highways come studded with sensors that monitor traffic and provide feedback. In Colorado, the Department of Transportation plans to create a half-mile stretch of road featuring a fiber optic network and Wi-Fi connectivity. In materials manufacturing, real-time tracking can help avoid heavily trafficked routes, reduce downtime and improve operation efficiency.

Greater Productivity Rates

Robots are ideal for materials handling because they work 24/7. They don’t need breaks or time for a vacation. At most, it may take a few minutes to recharge a battery. Supply chains can use automated robots to get more work done with less time and fewer resources. New advancements have brought mobile bots that can respond to unexpected obstructions — including human co-workers — and quickly formulate a detour. If you plan to improve productivity through automation, look for heavy-duty machinery that can withstand the rigors of warehouse operations.

At an Amazon fulfillment warehouse in Florence, New Jersey, robots complete manual tasks like grabbing items off conveyor belts and stacking pallets. Some employees monitor robot performance while handling their own set of functions. In 2012, Amazon company bought Kiva Systems for $775 million and renamed it Amazon Robotics. Today, the company has more than 100,000 robots in action around the world, with plans to add many more.

Enhanced Data Storage

One new advancement in technology, cloud-based robotics, allows manufacturers to securely store data off-site. Complete data transfers at rapid rates to increase operational efficiency and meet rising consumer demands. Cloud-based storage is especially useful for mobile robots, which require on-board computation to complete tasks. When you allocate data to an off-site location, mobility increases while costs are cut.

Many manufacturers incorporate blockchain technology into their cloud-based computing systems. While you may have heard of blockchain as a way to store and send cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, it can be used across multiple industries to improve security. When any type of data is entered into the blockchain, a type of digital ledger, it can never be altered or deleted. This prevents incidents of fraud or accidents caused by the misuse of information.

If you want to make material handling more efficient, turn to advances in robotics to meet your production goals. Bots are mobile and flexible, coded to complete a multitude of tasks. Cobots, collaborative robots, can even work in tandem with humans. The past ten years has led to new milestones in robotic advancements, and the future is bound to bring even more improvements.

Megan R. Nichols is a industrial writer and blogger. She regularly publishes in magazines like Manufacturing Global, EBN Online and Industry Week. She also updates her personal blog, Schooled By Science weekly with easy to understand manufacturing and technology articles. Keep up with Megan by subscribing to her blog or following her on Twitter.

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