Many of today’s warehouses have been or are in the process of transitioning from strictly a manual or conventional warehouse to a partially and eventually a fully automated warehouse. Depending on the level of sophistication, any automated process requires a variety of sensing technologies. Research from one company predicts that over 75% of companies will automate their warehouses by 2027. Mobil robots and drones will play important roles in the automation process.
Basic functions/activities involved in a warehouse include receiving, moving, storing, inventorying, relocating, and shipping. Tracking and other control activities add to these basic functions and with automated activities, especially robots, safety becomes even more important.
One company provides a variety of sensors and sensor-based warning devices for high-mobility warehouses including:
- forklift detection sensors
- aisle alert floor warning and traffic light systems
- traffic warning projector
- dock and door motion monitors
- infrared corner collision sensors
Storing and transporting products that have a shelf life / use-by date and those that require a controlled environment require more sensing (temperature, humidity, vibration, light, and other sensors). Food and medical supplies are among the first items that come to mind but even books and artwork, wine and bourbon require additional sensing for proper preservation and extended life.
Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to more effectively use the data from numerous sensors in the warehouse and sensors in transit to and from the warehouse, a modern warehouse can streamline workflows, improve safety, reduce overheads, and increase speed and efficiency. With a 2018 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stating that a typical warehouse costs more than $3.7 million in labor expenses annually, warehouse owners and operators have significant motivation to increase automation.
With the right data available from sensors such as weight sensors, global positioning system (GPS) and radio frequency identification (RFID) trackers, beacons, AI cameras, and more, advanced software can provide real-time information on an item’s location for greater visibility of the inventory in stock and minimize shrinkage. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs), drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have their own integrated sensing, but for the highest level of safety, their proximity to workers dictates effective use of motion tracking and monitoring sensors and connectivity to the warehouse’s internet of things (IoT) network.
One recent study concludes that mobile robots will greatly outpace drones in the next three years. In these situations, smart autonomous robots will rely on advanced technologies such as machine learning to incorporate tasks into future activities or support unprecedented conditions. Tactile and other sensing techniques could play a critical role in extending the types of tasks the robot can perform.
With the optimal use of available or strategically added sensor data, a warehouse operator can have real-time tracking, reduced operating costs, improved performance inventory management, automated maintenance, reduced risk /improved safety, detailed business analytics, and more.
Three upcoming webinars in the 2024 Automated Warehouse Webinar Series and the Robotics Summit & Expo 2024 will provide greater insight into changes occurring in warehouse automation. Check them out for further details and registration information.