Operators are turning to robotics to help transition away from just-in-time inventory management practices to more flexible supply chain operations.
Part of the move has been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. With disruptions to the global supply chain, many manufacturers and distributors struggled to find adequate components, particularly in automotive and electronics.
Now, they are looking to have more parts on hand in cases of disruptions and to plan ahead.
Robotics suppliers said they can provide customers with greater tools that allow for more efficient onsite management and predictive data analytics.
For example, Attabotics claimed that its products can help companies reduce their warehouse space requirements by 85%. The company makes automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) that allow customers to better take advantage of vertical space.
“This allows retailers to move their facilities to higher-density urban areas, usually your more expensive real estate, and getting that product closer to the consumer and reducing last-mile shipping,” Sean Murphy, director of innovation at Attabotics, told Robotics 24/7.
The Attabotics System is made up of Attabots, small shuttle robots that can move bins up 16 in. in height and 100 lb. in payload capacity.
“Attabotics’ scalable micro-fulfillment system condenses traditional warehouse aisles into a single, vertical storage structure,” the company said in a recent release announcing the newest version of its Attabot. “Inside the structure, robotic shuttles move in three-dimensional space to store and deliver goods to workers on the perimeter that pick, pack, and ship modern commerce orders.”
Murphy said Attabotics' system also addresses labor challenges and increases efficiency using software and data. The company has partnered with AltaML and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute to better take advantage of AI and machine learning. Using these and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, the company said it can help customers better track and optimize their inventory.
“The just-in-time method of supply chain suffered the most,” Murphy said. “Customers now have to think strategically about what they stock ahead of time.”
Customers are increasingly taking “a data-first approach to their supply chains,” he added.
Robotics firms partner up to satisfy U.S., global demands
To help meet automation demands as companies move production closer to home, many robotics have formed partnerships with local systems integrators.
Addverb Technologies and McMurray Stern in November announced that they are working together to expand Addverb’s market efforts in the U.S. McMurray, a warehouse automation systems integrator, will begin to sell Addverb’s range of robots, including the Multi-Pro mother-child pallet shuttle, the Zippy guided sortation robot, the Quadron carton shuttle, and the Dynamo autonomous mobile robot.
Noida, India-based Addverb opened U.S. offices in Irvine, Calif., in September. In addition, the company opened a robotics research and development center in Fremont, Calif.
Luke Lee, Addverb’s marketing head of America, told Robotics 24/7 the company chose to partner with McMurray Stern because of its experience in the industrial automation market and “deep understanding of the storage needs in warehouses.”
“We are bringing partners along to leverage their relationships, and they leverage our unique manufacturing capabilities and robots,” he said.
SVT Robotics and OSARO Inc. also announced last month that they had formed a partnership. SVT Robotics makes SOFTBOT, a robotics platform designed to help people install robots in their facilities. OSARO makes robotic piece-picking systems designed to for e-commerce markets.
In a release announcing the program, OSARO said it and SVT have worked together to deliver better products to customers.
SVT has joined OSARO’s new Partner Alliance program, which the company said it formed to “optimize every stage of a customer’s purchasing and deployment process.”
Founding members of the program include FANUC America, Pregis, and NSPG Global.
The value of collaboration
“OSARO is currently deploying its OSARO Robotic Bagging Systems in a production environment at Zenni Optical’s e-commerce distribution operations in Novato, Calif.,” the company said. “Each system includes a FANUC robot arm, a Pregis automated bagging system, and is installed with automation expertise from NPSG Global.”
In a column published in Robotics 24/7, Matt Kohler, solutions director of applications at Bastian Solutions, explained the benefits of enabling various types of automated systems in a facility to communicate and interact with one another.
“By integrating piece-picking robots with the back end of an ASRS, experienced integrators can turn a goods-to-person (GTP) system into a highly efficient goods-to-robot (GTR) system,” he wrote. “This fully automated solution can improve the speed and flexibility of custom order fulfillment while simultaneously reducing the amount of labor associated with order picking.”
“In today’s environment, this allows end users to allocate their workforce to more value-added services and improve job satisfaction and retention,” noted Kohler.