Vision, mobility and enhanced safety features make robotics ideal for labor automation, says Divya Prakash, director of business consulting at SICK.
Because labor availability is one of the key challenges for warehouse operators, a great more automation is entering the warehouse, Prakash says. And not just traditional equipment, such as conveyors. As online shopping increases, everything is moving at a faster pace. Consequently, autonomous vehicles and smart sensors are providing needed visibility and intelligence.
“There’s a whole new industrial revolution going on, bringing intelligence and connectivity,” Prakash says. “And we’re looking to automation to bail us out of this labor shortage.” In addition, managers want automation to perform repeatable tasks quickly, efficiently and safely, with a minimum of waste.
Workers began drifting away even before the pandemic set in, particularly Baby Boomers, who were close to or at retirement age, and who often weren’t comfortable with the technology entering the warehouse. Prakash feels the shortage will modify as a more tech-savvy generation is hired.
“I call them the Twitter generation.,” he says. “They’re not afraid of technology.” They’ll take to artificial learning and machine learning much more easily and rapidly.
Robots, however, are among the more exciting developments in warehouse technology. While robots have been around for a while and performed stationary tasks well, mobility and vision have enhanced their capabilities immensely, says Prakash. “Now, they can see and move. Which means additional tasks, and they can work with or alongside humans safely.”
Robots once worked inside fences, to maintain distance from humans, but many of those barriers are coming down as robots become safer. “They’re working fence-less because of the sensors that can sense presence. You can slow things down when a human approaches, or shut the robots down if humans come within the threshold where they’re operative.”
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