A wide variety of options are available to companies looking to automate their warehouses. Nick Maffucci, strategic account executive with OX, describes the state of the technology, and where it might be going in the years ahead.
Automation in the warehouse today is playing a crucial role by eliminating manual tasks such as picking, sorting and inventory management, Maffucci says. In the process, the technology is increasing throughput and reducing human error.
That doesn’t mean that human workers aren’t still needed in the warehouse. Today’s robots work side by side with people, Maffucci says. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs), for example, direct workers to places in the facility where product needs to be picked or put away, but the machines can’t perform that task themselves. “Co-automation,” therefore, is the goal of warehouse technology.
“There’s no technology out there yet with robots completely picking without an operator,” he says. New technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning provide frontline operators with workflows, instructing them in the next step to perform.
What’s more, only Fortune 100 companies can afford to run so-called dark warehouses, where the human presence might be limited to just one or two individuals. “The capital investment is so intensive that 95% of companies can’t do that.”
When implementing warehoused automation, facilities should make sure that the targeted systems can scale with an increase in activity. (That hasn’t been the case with old warehouse management software.) In addition, they need to upskill the remaining workforce and realign where it’s going to be located for maximum efficiency.
In warehouses, AI, machine learning and the internet of things “are really changing the game,” Maffucci says. They’re giving operators predictive analytics in real time, along with a level of visibility that wasn’t achievable before.
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