Robots and humans together make for a more productive warehouse.
Even prior to the pandemic, warehouses struggled to find enough skilled labor to fill all their positions. Once the pandemic kicked in, that number exploded—in just two years, businesses added nearly 700,000 warehousing positions, and still could have used more. While the labor shortage continues today, it is beginning to cool off some in the warehousing industry.
One of the best ways to fight the labor shortage is mobile robots. By adding automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), you can hand off the most mundane tasks and transfer your employees to more skilled positions. This is a win/win for both your productivity, and for retaining staff because you provide them with more challenging work and an opportunity for new skill and advancement..
Even as the labor shortage eases some, there’s a role for robots in the warehousing environment. In addition to fighting the labor shortage by taking over tasks that humans would rather avoid, they can work in harmony with existing staff. In these roles, robots serve to make existing staff more productive. Robots take on the role of “cobots,” collaborating with their human counterparts.
In these cases, robots might bring goods to person, for instance. So the human remains in place and on task, but the robot delivers the goods he or she needs to complete an order. This greatly reduces the amount of walking an employee must perform, saving time and energy for more productive results.
Some warehouse managers worry that having the robots working alongside humans on the floor can lead to safety issues. And while there are no full proof cobot/human scenarios, there are plenty of safeguards built into place, or that you can add to greatly mitigate risks.
Before releasing robots on the floor to work with employees, every operation should perform a thorough risk assessment. The best way to go about this is with your robotics partner. They can walk the floor with you, identify potentially hazardous areas, and then recommend safety measures to put in place. These can include gates, guards, warning signs and more. This is especially key when working with AMRs, which can have free rein of the floor. Training your employees in the important safety factors when working with robots is also important.
Robots continue to evolve in their capabilities, and many are now handling tasks once thought too complex. You might find them performing tasks like kitting, machine tending and other higher-level activities. This will lead to more opportunities to have them on the floor, and thus more need for proper safety measures.
Beyond mobile robots are fixed robots, which have been working in the industrial environment for years. In general, these robots work behind guarding, but your staff should still be training in safety when operating anywhere near these big, mobile arms.
Robots will play increasingly larger roles in warehouses going forward, improving productivity, and helping offset the labor shortage. To ensure success, invest in the time and equipment to keep your employees safe.
Source: Bryan Sellers, SICK
Mobile Automation Group (MAG) members are the Industry’s leading suppliers of automatic guided vehicle systems. They supply systems worldwide and in virtually every major manufacturing and distribution sector.
Both Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are computer-controlled wheel-based load carriers (normally battery powered) that run on a plant or warehouse floor (or, if outdoors, on a paved surface). The main difference between AGVs and AMRs is how the path they follow is determined.
- Most AGVs follow predefined paths, although there may be areas of the plant or warehouse where they have more freedom.
- AMRs can determine their own path, although they will attempt to follow suggested paths if they exist.
This difference leads to differing methodologies for ensuring safe operation for the two types of vehicle.
- AGVs follow the ANSI B56.5 Safety Guidelines
- AMRs follow the R15.08 Standard
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