The importance of robotics technologies in the warehouse continues to grow, says Drew Bailey, vice president, design engineering, at Geodis.
In Bailey’s view, implementing robotics in the warehouse, while not inexpensive, is simply the cost of doing business. Indeed, in some ways, he says the choice is made for warehouse operators: the advantages are obvious and worthwhile.
“In terms of the well-documented labor shortage and wage pressures and utilization of space and things like that, the advantages are there,” he says. “And people like working with automation. So it brings a level of excitement even at the floor level. People enjoy interacting with robots in their day-to-day job.”
Nevertheless, Bailey doesn’t suggest that operators go on a buying spree. The use of robots has been biggest in asset-intensive projects, such as traditional material handling. Of course, if one’s focus is in piece picking, investment can be made now in articulated-arm robotics. While there are many other potential uses, he advises buying only what’s needed now. “Instead of buying for some future design year, say three to five years in the future, you can buy for what you need now and then add incrementally to that as your business materializes,” he says.
Vendors have focused in recent years on the vision to grasp and obtain randomized items and totes, Bailey says. “I think the next phase is how to place those into order containers. A lot of times that requires specific orientation of items that a human can do with great cognition and dexterity that we’re still teaching robots to do.”
Obviously, picking has been a large part of robotics. Bailey says packing, where labor is often concentrated, will be a “huge focus” in coming years.
Where to start? “Find your labor in the facility, and find ways to reduce your dependency on it.”