Recognize, Grab, Pick: Use of Robots in Warehouses

Some are stuck in a rectangular box, others lie loose in a bag: the variety of products in small parts warehouses is overwhelming. The same applies to packaging. Orders flood the warehouses daily. And they couldn’t be more different. The task? Picking into the order bin. Behind this is nothing more than assembling the ordered goods in order to make them ready for dispatch as quickly and error-free as possible. Jan Louwen, Strategy Manager at Swisslog, reveals how an automated cell and robot can help.

Mr. Louwen, every day thousands of orders are individually compiled in warehouses. This order picking is one of the most labour-intensive and cost-intensive tasks in internal logistics. How can an industrial robot help?

Equipped with a multi-functional suction cup gripper, a robot can perform up to 1,000 picks fully automatically in one hour. In concrete terms, this means that crates containing the products required for ordering are taken from the warehouse to the picking workstations. The robot reaches in and reliably picks the products into the so-called order bin. A vision system supports the robot so that the gripping points can be precisely determined. The robot, embedded in a fully automated cell, is thus a perfect addition to the workstations where people compile orders.

What is the difference between manual and automated workstations?

In warehouses there is an incredibly large quantity of different products. They differ in shape, size, weight or even in the way they are packaged. People don’t have to think long about how to tackle the different products – whether they are loosely packed garments or shampoo bottles. This is not quite so easy for a robot. Supported by intelligent software and a vision system, it has to adapt to the products again and again. It has a reach of 1,100 mm, the product must be at least 25 x 20 mm and weigh no more than 1.5 kg. This sounds like a major limitation. In reality, however, an extremely large number of products still fall into this category. All others go directly to the manual picking points.

And how is it controlled that the right products reach the right workplaces?

This is done by our SynQ software, which controls the entire warehouse. Communication between the integrated intralogistics solutions, robots, workstations and the various software solutions is the be-all and end-all. Of course, it wouldn’t make sense if the exchange between the systems didn’t work. The right interfaces are particularly important for this.

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