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Are Robots Finally Ready for the DC?

Are Robots Finally Ready for the DC?

   Matt Wicks

Are Robots Finally Ready for the DC?

Improved automation systems and promising revolutionary prototypes seem to pop up every week. Since 2012, investors have poured approximately $3 billion into new robotics projects — including everything from industrial automation to self-driving cars to surgery.

But while automation theoretically appeals to distribution centers, many questions remain: 

  • Are today’s robots ready for the chaotic, unstructured environment of the DC? 
  • How will they interact with employees and existing automated systems? 
  • What sort of workflows can they support? 

While the answers to these questions depend on the unique needs of each DC, recent advances in automation technologies have come a long way. Robots are increasingly up to the real-world challenges of the industry — and at reasonable costs. 

The bottom line is this: automation is finally living up to its promise in today’s connected DCs, but three key strategies are vital to your success.

  1. Start with strong systems integration. 

    A successful robotics system requires tight coordination among a lot of moving parts — from high-speed sortation systems to picking technologies to conveyors — with smart software to tie everything together. 

    To make sure these interdependent systems deliver maximal benefits, you’ll want to choose a provider with both robotic integration and domain expertise. A provider who understands robotics technologies in the context of your established workflows can seamlessly integrate them with other automated and manual components. 

    A robotics partner with robust support capabilities and in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of your DC can give you a home-field advantage. Smooth design and integration will enable you to make the best use of your employees, identify the optimal times to schedule maintenance, and minimize downtime during your peak seasons. 
  2. Minimize downtime risks with a robust support team.

    Unscheduled downtime can derail any facility’s best efforts to deliver top performance. This is especially costly during peaks, when downtime can cost the average DC around $20,000 per hour. 

    While robotics startups excel at developing the latest and greatest technologies, building a national service organization is an entirely different challenge. To insulate your operation from the risks of costly downtime, rely on an established system supplier with a nationwide service network. Rapid access to a variety of U.S.-based preventive and quick-response maintenance services will keep you up and running. 
  3. Consult the right friends when choosing your robotics integrator. 

    More companies than ever are offering robotic integration services, giving you unprecedented options from which to choose. But sifting through the new, wide-open DC robotics scene can be a challenge. How do you know if an integrator has experience delivering the results you need? Will it cost what their initial budget says? What about safety?

    Reputable trade organizations like the Robotic Industries Association can help. Programs like the RIA Certified Integrator Program put providers through a rigorous process of on-site audits and safety training assessments to make sure a company has the expertise to deliver the rates, quality and total cost of ownership for a successful robotic solution. 

The future is here.

Whether you’re struggling with worker shortages, high turnover and retraining, or want to use the labor you have more efficiently, the robotics revolution isn’t science fiction anymore. When it comes to robotic innovation and integration, it’s now possible to have the best of both worlds. 

Honeywell Robotics has recently partnered with Fetch Robotics, Soft Robotics and Carnegie Mellon University to bring next-generation artificial intelligence, mobile robotics and advanced gripping technologies to the distribution center. These partnerships complement our in-house innovations with a complete suite of robotic solutions, backed by expert systems integration, solutions development and reliable, 24/7 technical support

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