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Robotics Logistics: How It Improves the Supply Chain?

Robotics logistics encompasses any autonomous system or machine used to automate processes in warehouse operations.

What Does Robotics Logistics Mean?

Robotics logistics encompasses any autonomous system or machine used to automate processes in warehouse operations. Some examples include the following:

  • Robotic packaging
  • Robotic palletizing
  • Robotics picking

How Does Robotics Logistics Work?

The first supply chain robots were only capable of moving materials up to twelve feet. For a few years, they were restricted to manufacturing environments, because they were not safe for people to work around. Now, robotics technology has advanced to the point where more sophisticated robots can perform tasks without supervision and can even work around the clock.

Modern robotics logistics use autonomous vehicles, cellular networks, and artificial intelligence (AI) to automate the storage and transportation of goods along the supply chain. Each technology plays an important role in improving the overall efficiency of the supply chain.

Autonomous Vehicles

Many organizations within the supply chain use autonomous vehicles as a part of their logistics strategy. These vehicles can range in size based on the task. For example, warehouse robots are small and stay primarily indoors moving pallets of products to their destination. On the other hand, some businesses use autonomous trucks to move products from the rail yard to the loading dock during the last mile of their journey. These systems often move very quickly while requiring constant and uninterrupted network connectivity. 

Cellular Networks

Public cellular networks, and now private wireless networks, are often used in robotics logistics due to their reliability and ubiquitous coverage. Today, 5G networks are at the forefront of logistic networks offering the capacity, reliability, and ultra-low latency needed for enterprise applications.

Artificial Intelligence

Lastly, artificial intelligence allows robotics logistics to continuously improve and adapt to changing conditions. For example, AI-powered autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) can change their route when another vehicle reports that an area is blocked. This flexibility enables logistics companies to improve their delivery times even in the face of slowdowns or technical issues.

Benefits of Robotics Logistics

Unlike humans, robots can perform tasks without stopping or requiring supervision. This has a clear benefit to the business, but also for many staff as well. Repetitive mundane tasks are often the first to become automated, allowing staff to pivot to new more engaging roles in the company.

Many believe robotics completely replace humans, but in many businesses, this isn’t the case. Robotics can help improve staff productivity and safety at the same time. For example, robot arms assist workers in lifting heavy packages at distribution centers, and can automatically sort packages during pick-and-pack operations.

With these benefits, more businesses are considering robotics to help automate  logistics processes and productivity. These robots are able to complete tasks like transferring products from one point to another, preparing orders, and storing items on racks. 

In addition, warehouse robots can ramp up productivity and eliminate human error, which is why more businesses are implementing these machines in their supply chain. According to a McKinsey study, the worldwide market for warehouse automation is projected to grow by 23% by 2030. As AI technology and robotics improve we can expect the future of logistics to look much more automated.

Types of Warehouse Robotics

There are a variety of robotic systems you could find in a warehouse or across a distribution center. While their jobs may vary, the underlying technology largely remains the same.

Robotic Packaging

Robotic packaging helps improve logistics times and eliminate excess waste by quickly and precisely packing products. Modern systems use QR codes, NFC, and even image recognition to support dynamic packaging facilities.

WES (Warehouse Execution Systems) software governs the flow of materials and orders, and often integrates directly with packaging robotics. This robotic system can help eliminate the need for human labor by reducing packaging errors, injuries, and damaged products from accidents.

Robotic Palletizing

Robotic palletizing in logistics is a new way to package and palletize mixed cases. It allows for high-volume handling while still being efficient enough to handle specialty loads. With this technology, a robot can automatically load and unload pallets.

Easy to integrate into the production flow, robotic palletizers are modular and flexible, scaling up or down as needed. This makes them a good option for small production lines as well as existing large automated palletizers. They can also be used to test new products, packaging, and supply chain models.

Robotic palletizing is often used where there is a need for consistency. Since each pallet is identical to the other, it helps minimize errors and interruptions when palletizing. As long as the stacking rules and customer order lines are correct, the robotic arm will be able to stack the pallets according to the desired order.

Robotic Picking

A typical logistical situation requires picking and packing products from a variety of shelves. This requires complex sensing, motion planning, and manipulation. Using robotics can make this process more efficient, while at the same time reducing staff workload.

Some companies choose to automate their entire picking process while others choose a partial automation approach. While some robots are fully autonomous, other solutions need a human to intervene when a bin is empty or the wrong item is in it.

Many warehouses already use mobile picking robots. They can reduce costs by reducing travel time for staff, and increasing overall productivity. Warehouse managers often use a simulation model to determine the system's performance and size. The next step is typically a pilot study with a small number of robots to help identify any bottlenecks and develop KPIs for a larger operation.

Prepping Your Business for Robotics Logistics

Whether you’re improving existing automation or building your robotics logistics from the ground up, reliable network connectivity is essential. Understanding your use cases can help you identify what requirements your network should be built for.

A few good questions to start with are:

  • How many robots/endpoints am I supporting?
  • How fast are my autonomous vehicles moving?
  • What is my estimated coverage area?
  • Are there any application latency requirements?
  • What impact can I expect from slowness or drops in coverage? Is it acceptable?

Your answers can help shape your network and determine the number and exact placement of your access points. A detailed wireless heat map of the property will also help uncover dead zones and other signal inferences.

If you’re just getting started, or are in the middle of troubleshooting, be sure to check out our network planner to help guide you through the process.

Building Your Robotics Logistics Network

Celona helps companies plan, design, and launch their own private cellular networks to support higher performance reliability in robotic logistics. Recently, Celona teamed up with a robotics manufacturer to dramatically improve network performance, eliminate network latency and reduce the amount of hardware needed.

Offering the industry’s only turnkey 5G LAN system specifically designed for industrial enterprise environments, Celona makes implementing private cellular wireless for logistics technology an out-of-box experience. With its ability to directly integrate with enterprise network security policies and QoS requirements, its onboarding can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.

If you’re building your network for the future, Celona can help. Check out our private LTE network planner to see what your network would look like on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum, or test-drive the Celona Solution Architecture for yourself through our free trial.

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