Safety advances in material handling continue to provide opportunities throughout the industry.
At Sarcos Robotics, the focus of company products and solutions is on dynamic and unstructured environments, according to Kristi Martindale, chief product and marketing officer. The business bills itself as a global technology provider in designing and producing dexterous robotic systems that prevent injury, save lives, and create new possibilities.
The company went public in 2021 and currently has close to 300 employees with expertise in engineering, software, AI, and more, Martindale said. What that allows us to do is differentiation of robotic platforms,” she said.
In material handling, which often includes operations working with objects of different sizes, the company’s Guardian XT can be implemented. Martindale noted an example of the material handling of coffee bags. “Coffee comes in giant burlap sacks. They have to be loaded and stacked and moved. There is not really a great way to do that,” she said. The XT system is designed to operate and move similar to human operators, according to Martindale, who said the arms are designed to lift up to 100 pounds each.
She noted that OSHA guidelines are that a single person should lift up to 35 or 40 pounds. “There are a lot of things in a workplace that are not 35 or 40 pounds,” said Martindale, who noted that $164 billion is spent in the U.S. annually on back injuries. In many cases, those are due to repetition and strain built up over time. “Also, fatigue. You get tired and start making mistakes that can lead to items being dropped,” Martindale said.
Implementing solutions like the Guardian XT helps augment what a human is capable of doing and can open up jobs to a wider range of workers, according to Martindale. She said one of the company’s leaders recently spoke of the advantages of the company’s solutions at a trade union conference. “Their job is to look out for their constituents. Part of that is their health and well-being and safety,” Martindale said. In trials with the Sarcos Robotics technology, she said users reported ease of learning and usability.
Overall, leaders at Sarcos Robotics envision a myriad of opportunities in the future. “At the end of the day, every company of every size has some of the same challenges. Getting people to fill the job. Aging populations. Labor shortage,” Martindale said. She said utilizing robotics helps in worker retention as well as ensuring worker safety. As the cost for robots continues to become more commercially viable, implementation is a way for material handling companies to remain competitive, Martindale said.
At Flex-Line Automation, Cathy Rinne said there has been an increase in the kinds of tech available to help with safety. “There are exoskeletons for lifting and repetitive work. It makes it easier to handle some of those physical tasks,” she said, agreeing with Martindale that the technology being introduced opens jobs to more workers.
Rinne, president of the automation integration company, works with manufacturers on projects like end-of-line robotics, conveyors, and more. Rinne noted that along with exoskeletons, robotic box erectors make a difference in worker safety. “If you’ve ever stood and folded boxes; who would want to do that for an eight-hour shift?” She said, noting that robotics can help with that type of task and reduce the amount of stress and tension the worker experiences.
Rinne noted the mental benefits of such solutions, as well. “We as people need to be engaged,” she said. “Several of the manufacturers we deal with are down so many employees. They can’t find enough people to fill those positions. That makes retention even more important and giving them something fulfilling. ”Workplaces have evolved from those of past generations and Rinne only sees that advancing. “With the younger generations coming into the workforce, they have different thoughts and ideas. We employers if we don’t keep pace we’re going to really lose out,” she said.
Rinne noted that safety needs to be considered in how it relates to each situation and planned for in advance. It is somewhat like parenting; thinking about where potential problems may be and needs for improvement, she said. “You have to be mindful all the time in this industry that anything could happen. Fortunately, a lot of great products are coming to market,” Rinne said.
The Neo 2W by Avidbots is one of those products. Released this year, the Neo 2W s billed by the company as “the first cleaning robot designed specifically for warehouses and manufacturing environments to improve cleaning quality, efficiency, and productivity,” a press release said.
The design is especially notable for its diversion system that ensures warehouse debris does not get caught in the robot, according to Pablo Molina, Avidbots CTO and co-founder. “It does a really good job of that,” he said. Another improvement the Neo 2W features is advanced obstacle detection, something Molina said is a first in the industry. The robot has technology allowing for the detection of highly complex obstacles, Molina said.
“A lot of forklift operators like to park with forks close to the ground. We’re using machine learning technology to segment that out and be able to detect,” he said. “It’s working really well. It prevents collisions with forklifts and collisions with pallets.” The technology is easy to deploy and use, according to Molina, who said Avidbots deployment techs go with the robot for two to three days at each facility to help map and train. “Our user interface is really simple to use. It’s three clicks to start cleaning,” he said.
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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