Report • 01.07.2017

Robots and automated processes are the future of warehouse logistics

Staff shortages and the e-commerce boom call for all resources

When e-commerce retailers sell products every few seconds, it creates enormous challenges for their logistics processes. Sufficient qualified staff is currently not available to handle these tasks. This is why automated resources such as driverless systems, robots, and AutoStore logistic solutions are going to play an increasing role.

Let’s take a typical online shoe purchase: it all starts with the customer clicking the order button and ends with the package brought to his/her doorstep by the delivery service. In between are sophisticated logistical processes shoppers are unaware of. Shoppers essentially do not care how this happens – they simply want to get their shoes as fast as possible.

The collaboration between companies, research, and manufacturers to create new...
The collaboration between companies, research, and manufacturers to create new developments has grown.
Source: Goodluz/panthermedia

Warehouse logistics faces tremendous challenges due to the consistently growing e-commerce sector. Whereas brick-and-mortar store logistics are subject to general regulations (most notably due to business hours), online retailers experience almost no limits when it comes to time and quantities. This is why warehouse logistics has to be flexible as it pertains to time and the capacity to store a wide range of products. It requires space-saving storage options and most notably adequate manpower to process these orders.

But therein lies a problem. The recently published study titled “Skill Shortage in the Logistics Sector“ by the German Confederation of Logistics (Bundesvereinigung Logistik, BVL) reveals that there is already a lack of manpower and young talent. The study shows that the areas of IT (47 percent), drivers (46 percent), disposition (41 percent) and warehousing (38 percent) lack the most number of experts. This skills shortage in the logistics sector is also why approximately 82 percent of the surveyed companies predict long-term negative to extremely negative effects on their company’s success.

Werbung

Order picking: commissioning robots ahead

The lack of experts on the one hand and the online retail boom on the other gives rise to the development of technologies that assist humans in disposition and order picking. Matthias Heutger, Senior Vice President Strategy, Marketing & Innovation at DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation comments on the Deutsche Post DHL Group “Robotics in Logistics“ trend report from March 2016: “Robots are used in many different industry sectors but have not been fully accepted yet in logistics due to the complexity of the processes. Controlling an endless number of product and process combinations in conjunction with people in enclosed spaces is a challenge for robots. Current research shows that processes are still handled manually in 80 percent of logistics sites. Having said that, technology is catching up as of late since flexible, cost-effective and collaborative robots are increasingly in demand.“ For example, logistic robots could support order picking and packaging processes as well as the transport of merchandise. DHL is currently testing different robotic technologies in individual pilot projects.

The White Paper titled “Robots in Picking Logistics“ by Miebach Consulting presents options that can already be completed in an automated fashion as it pertains to commissioning activities and lists those that are still pending. Activities such as removing cardboard separators or empty pallets, commissioning cardboard boxes or storing items on pallets and rolling carts are being automated. However, many processes are still handled by human beings, such as the detection of damaged products and the decision to pull them. The machine reaches its limits when it does not encounter a product in optimal condition. This is an area where a person is still the better order picker. 

The authors conclude that the use of robots in order picking is profitable if the work can be allocated to adequate working hours, the daily peak workloads are moderate, the remaining percentage of non-automated merchandise stays low and costs of labor and warehouse space are at a high level to where they are able to offset the investment costs of robot applications. The authors consider their use especially profitable in e-commerce because the basic conditions for required performance and economies of scale apply and cost of labor is comparatively high.

AutoStore and driverless systems: space-saving and flexible solutions

Individual robots are able to assist people in some areas of logistics, while optimal space usage is becoming increasingly important. Existing warehouses, in particular, require solutions that save space and simplify and speed up processes.

The so-called AutoStore system has turned out to be a space efficient warehouse system. It has no shelves but instead stacks bins in a self-supporting modular aluminum grid. The frameworks simultaneously serve as rails for the AutoStore robots. This cubical automated system takes the merchandise to the locations where products are loaded and unloaded. A highly sophisticated control system is armed with warehouse management data and coordinates the order picking process in a fully automated manner.

AutoStore warehouses are not only interesting for logistics giants like DHL Group (in a warehouse in Singapore for example), but also for companies like the Swiss mail order company Angela Bruderer, which sells bed linens, home textiles, clothing and household items. Here again, the online shop caused a tremendous increase in sales. Since converting to the automated small parts warehouse in the summer of last year, 18 robots have been operating 13,000 stacked plastic containers. In doing so, the company was able to double the storage capacity of the existing area and increase the picking speed. Since the storage system features a modular design, it can be expanded as needed, also depending on the available space.

Photo
Source: Salt Solutions; Das Versandhaus Angela Bruderer setzt auf das AutoStore-System. Die Roboter bewegen die Behälter vollautomatisch.

An invention by the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) entirely eliminates shelves and frames. The “stack access machine“ is an automated vehicle that stores and removes containers from a highly flexible container system. “The machine is able to fully automatically remove a container from a stack by lifting the container on top and then restacking it,“ explains Thomas Albrecht, Director of Driverless Transport Systems at IML and adds, “the only thing needed to store the containers is the warehouse.“ 

Robots and humans: working together as a team

Companies don’t seem to be afraid of these technologies. In this case, the predominant issue is not whether robots could potentially replace human beings in warehouse logistics management or might take away their work but rather whether warehouse logistics is actually able to fare without them. One of the key aspects of development is to tease out where and how humans and robots can efficiently work together. Thomas Albrecht sums things up: “The advantage of robots is obviously their ability to work around the clock and not get tired while doing so. However, humans are still more skilled and more efficient. This is also why not all areas can and will be taken over entirely by robots.“

 

Cover photo: Salt Solutions

Advertisement
Author: Natascha Mörs; iXtenso

related articles:

popular articles:

Thumbnail: Photo: The retail industry needs digital experts

Recruiting • 27.07.2017

The retail industry needs digital experts

Companies compete for candidates and vice versa

Thumbnail: Photo: From transport to information carrier: intelligent packaging in retail...

Interview • 03.07.2017

From transport to information carrier: intelligent packaging in retail logistics

“The biggest challenge in packaging is its integration into the supply chain”

Thumbnail: Photo: Shoppable content: content and commerce merge with a click...

Specialist article • 07.08.2017

Shoppable content: content and commerce merge with a click

The potential goes beyond fashion and sports

Thumbnail: Photo: Instant payment solutions offer great potential...

Specialist article • 16.06.2017

Instant payment solutions offer great potential

For customers, making payments is becoming as easy as sending an email

Thumbnail: Photo: Electronic shelf labels ensure accurate pricing...

Company News • 17.07.2017

Electronic shelf labels ensure accurate pricing

Department store giant Bauhaus is launching a pilot project to replace its in-store paper pricing

Thumbnail: Photo: In-store tracking: customer buying behavior analysis ever more precise...

Report • 29.06.2017

In-store tracking: customer buying behavior analysis ever more precise

… but keep it anonymous and compliant with data protection legislation

Thumbnail: Photo: Digital signage in pharmacies: better consulting with new technologies...

Report • 04.08.2017

Digital signage in pharmacies: better consulting with new technologies

Pharmacies need a shopping experience too

Thumbnail: Photo: CCV re-equips new payment infrastructure at Tchibo...

Company News • 31.07.2017

CCV re-equips new payment infrastructure at Tchibo

New hardware allows contactless payments via NFC

Thumbnail: Photo: Star Micronics introduces the SM-L300

Company News • 07.08.2017

Star Micronics introduces the SM-L300

The most well-connected mobile receipt and label printer available today

Thumbnail: Photo: Xovis – people flow monitoring for the IoT age...

Video Advertisement • 04.07.2017

Xovis – people flow monitoring for the IoT age

More than 40.000 Xovis 3D sensors are deployed in the retail industry

Supplier

Scansation GmbH
Scansation GmbH
Zielstattstr. 133
81379 München
StrongPoint
StrongPoint
Schießstrasse 35
40549 Düsseldorf
CCV Deutschland GmbH
CCV Deutschland GmbH
Gewerbering 1
84072 Au i.d.Hallertau
prudsys AG
prudsys AG
Zwickauer Straße 16
09112 Chemnitz
NCR GmbH
NCR GmbH
Steinerne Furt 67
86176 Augsburg
Xovis AG
Xovis AG
Industriestrasse 1
3052 Zollikofen

Permaplay Media Solutions GmbH
Permaplay Media Solutions GmbH
Aschmattstr. 8
76532 Baden-Baden
QUAD GmbH
QUAD GmbH
Windmüllerstraße 30
59557 Lippstadt
APG Cash Drawer
APG Cash Drawer
5250 Industrial Blvd NE
55421 Minneapolis
Axis Communications GmbH
Axis Communications GmbH
Adalperostraße 86
85737 Ismaning