News Analysis

Robots Add Key Efficiencies to Distribution Centers and Factories

How will you shop this holiday season? Chances are your answer includes taking advantage of ecommerce solutions. Online and mobile shopping offers the ability to shop whenever, wherever. Ecommerce retailers offer large, varied inventory, competitive prices, and fast delivery to consumers’ doorsteps. How can traditional brick-and-mortar retailers keep up with that? And as customers require more personalization in manufacturing, how can factories rethink their business strategies—and their factories themselves—to provide this customization?

The realities of ecommerce growth are pressuring supply chains, forcing supply-chain executives to find ways to make their operations more efficient. Robotics technology is one way companies with large, integrated distribution centers are rising to the challenge. Honeywell recently announced it’s collaborating with Fetch Robotics to provide distribution centers with technology in the form of autonomous mobile robots that can help distribution centers keep up with growing volumes of ecommerce orders. This announcement follows another one by Honeywell Intelligrated and Carnegie Mellon University, which revealed the organizations’ commitment to working together to develop next-gen AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics technologies for distribution centers.

Fetch Robotics says its autonomous mobile robots use a combination of LiDAR and 3D cameras to navigate unpredictable warehouse environments. The devices can reroute in realtime if an obstacle appears—similar to the way autonomous vehicles avoid collisions on the road. The robots are capable of operating safely alongside human workers to transport items through distribution centers without human guidance or fixed paths. Honeywell says the partnership with Fetch Robotics will help its customers increase productivity and boost labor efficiency by automating part of their distribution center operations.

Robots aren’t just adding efficiencies in distribution centers; they’re also being deployed in factories that make robots. ABB recently announced it will invest $150 million to build an automated robotics factory in Shanghai, China. The Kangqiao manufacturing center, which is expected to be operational by the end of 2020, will feature a number of machine learning, digital, and collaborative solutions that will act as a model of the “factory of the future.” It will also feature an onsite R&D (research and development) center designed to help accelerate innovations in AI.

ABB says its own logistics automation solutions will be used throughout the plant, including automatic guided vehicles that can autonomously follow robots as they move through production and provide them with parts from localized stations. Even the factory’s floorplan is innovative. The plant’s flexible layout will be based on interlinked islands of automation rather than fixed assembly lines, the company says. Plus, the use of ABB’s SafeMove2 software will help robots and humans work safely in close proximity.

A willingness to rethink the modern distribution center and factory floor is going to be a calling card of successful businesses going forward. Robotics and AI solutions will likely be an important part of this new model for success. As sectors like retail and manufacturing evolve to meet the needs of connected consumers, it will take flexibility and investment in technology on the part of business executives to stay ahead of the curve and the competition.

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By |2018-11-30T20:15:34+00:0011/30/2018|

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