60 seconds with… Bryan Knott and Crystal Parrott from The Robotics Group (MHI)

In this edition of 60 Seconds with... We sat down with Brian Knott and Crystal Parrott to discuss The Robotics Group and Robotics in general.

In this edition of 60 Seconds with... We sat down with Brian Knott and Crystal Parrott to discuss The Robotics Group and Robotics in general.

Bryan Knott and Crystal Parrott


Titles: Chair and vice chair, The Robotics Group (TRG), MHI. Knott is the logistics solutions business manager for ABB. Parrott is vice president of the Robotics Center of Excellence for Dematic.

Location: Charlotte, NC

Modern: Robotics is often news today in warehousing and distribution. Yet, robots have been in manufacturing for decades. What has changed and why now?

Knott: Robotics are showing up in the warehouse for many of the same reasons they were adopted in manufacturing. Lack of labor availability is becoming a strong driver as well as for reasons of worker safety, including ergonomic concerns and highly repetitive and mundane actions.

Parrott: In addition to the labor issue, technology has advanced to the point that incorporating robots in semi-structured and unstructured environments is now possible through the use of advanced vision solutions, motion planners and gripping techniques. Previously, they were constrained to fixed environments.

Modern: The Robotics Group is a new industry group for MHI. How did it come about?

Knott: This has been a two-plus-year effort. We wanted to create a group of OEMs, integrators and technology providers that would advocate for best practices and educate end users about the benefit of robotic-centric applications in the materials handling industry. We organized a small exploratory group and it led to more than 50 interested companies.

Modern: Given that there are other robotics industry associations and organizations, how will your group differentiate itself? What are the areas you’ll concentrate on? And, what areas will you leave to those other organizations?

Parrott: There are many great organizations that address robotics. For instance, RIA, which is now part of A3, is a leader. That organization has done great things in standards and certification programs as well as training programs relative to the use of robotics for all industries. Rather than duplicate their efforts, our group plans to focus on propagating the use of the advanced materials handling technology that benefits the logistics space for the benefit of the industry.

Modern: One of the topics that came up for discussion at a meeting of this group at the MHI annual meeting was: What are the barriers to adoption, or why are we in perpetual pilots? What do the two of you think is holding back the broader adoption of robotics in our space?

Knott: There are a lot of variables to a successful robotic-centric solution in this segment. We aren’t manipulating a single item, consistently and repeatedly with accuracy as they do in manufacturing. So, we have to combine vision, artificial intelligence and other technologies with the articulated arm to sense the high variability and act in a more autonomous way. The pilots are important because once complete and proven successful they are replicated and deployed many times over within the same facility.

Parrott: One of the key barriers is the amount of available data on the reliability of this technology in warehousing environments. Those that are using it aren’t really sharing their success stories, so there is a hesitancy to be the first. The logistics space is extremely competitive and there hasn’t been the driving mandate to automate until the explosion of e-commerce combined with the increasing shortage of labor. To expand now, companies need to adopt automation with the understanding that it will continue to improve with operation.

Modern: For those who want to learn more, who should get involved with The Robotics Group and who do they contact to learn more?

Knott: You can visit The Robotics Group page on MHI.org. There you can find contact information for Pat Davidson, the MHI executive working with the group.

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