Logistics and warehouse automation: How mobile robots improve supply chain efficiency and solve workforce problems
05 Jan, 2023

Logistics and warehouse automation: How mobile robots improve supply chain efficiency and solve workforce problems

As consumers increasingly turn to e-commerce for everything from electronics to groceries to clothing and even furniture, the challenges for external logistics companies and the workers in their warehouses continue to increase as they need to process and ship these orders as quickly as possible.

Add in limited space and existing labour shortages throughout the supply chain, and it's no wonder that logistics centres and warehouses are automating at a record pace, with autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) leading the way. With 30,000 new warehouses expected over the next five years, the demand for these types of robots to transport pallets, carts and even individual boxes into these facilities will grow significantly.

Repetitive tasks such as long-distance shipping typically require forklifts and human-staffed lift trucks, but with autonomous mobile robots that can pick, transport and deliver pallets with payloads up to 1350 kg like the MiR1350, warehouses can redeploy human labour and see a rapid return on investment in the process. With the help of sensors and 3D cameras, mobile robots are also a safe alternative to manned forklifts, where human error results in 100,000 minor and serious injuries annually (data: Occupational Safety & Health Administration).

"With our mobile robots, we don't need to add a forklift driver to waste time walking around the site when they can perform higher value-added tasks that are more difficult to automate, such as maintaining shelving in aisles," says Jan, global account director for Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR).

The MiR Hook 250 TM mobile robot equipped with a hook for pulling transpallet trolleys is receiving a lot of attention from outsourced (external) logistics companies, as many warehouse customers have existing trailers that need to be moved around the site/warehouse/distribution centre. With the MiR Hook 250 TM, the only thing to do when entering the warehouse is to set up a QR code and tag to the trailer. The MiR250 can simply be hooked to the cart using the built-in hook system. The MiR250 robot can then start moving by pulling the cart behind it. This is proving extremely useful for many external logistics companies.

Why logistics companies choose MiR

MiR's robots maneuver safely around any obstacle, including human employees and other robots, and if a human steps out right in front of them, they stop. Using advanced technology and sophisticated software, the robot can move autonomously and choose the most efficient route to its destination. AMRs increase throughput with more efficient process settings while reducing space requirements as fewer static conveyors are needed, if any are available. The efficiency and versatility of MiR's mobile robots make them particularly useful for the highly congested industry of outsourced logistics companies, helping to ensure a streamlined and fast workflow. AMRs eliminate human error and reduce the need for so many inventory checks, meaning suppliers can report shorter workflows.

Lessons learned expand applications and improve offers

Focusing on the outsourced logistics market, Ian and his team use what they learn from one customer to help others, including which types of applications benefit most from a given robot. For example, they learned that some customers required larger payloads and more robust robots, resulting in MiR creating the MiR600 and MiR1350 to lift heavier pallets for horizontal transport and long-distance driving. Logistics companies are also deploying mobile robots, such as the MiR Hook 250 TM, for applications such as inbound buffer to warehouse or warehouse to outbound buffer.

What does the future of automation look like in the world?

Far from its early days on factory production lines, automation has infiltrated organizations and has found a place in the operations of all departments, and that won't change in the future. Combined with robotics and artificial intelligence, automation handles today and will handle in the years to come the routine tasks that people prefer not to spend time on, the work that is dangerous or boring.

For best results, we must continue to create automation strategies that help teams focus on their most important work. Choose automation tools from Soltec that free up time, connect your overall workflow, and increase productivity.

 Contact the Soltec team here.

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