Bin-Picking Robots Tackle Supply Chain Chaos
As manufacturers continue experiencing challenges finding workers across all departments due to historically low unemployment rates, automation is no longer a nice thing to have; it is a must-have. A recent investigation conducted by the Workforce Institute at UKG revealed that prior to the pandemic, approximately 38% of manufacturers struggled to locate suitable talent, but this figure has now risen to 54%.1 In light of these numbers, incorporating flexible automation in the form of vision-guided robotics (VGR) for bin picking has many benefits.
Leaving dirty or dangerous material movements to an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) or a flexible bin-picking collaborative robot (cobot) makes jobs safer and easier. It also frees employees up to focus on more engaging, value-added tasks, resulting in more efficient and productive manufacturing and warehousing operations overall. Automated bin picking can help manufacturers with challenges across the board, including labor shortages, high order volume, and supply chain disruption.
Labor Issues Abound
Labor issues extend far beyond the above-mentioned shortages. High turnover in manufacturing and warehousing operations can leave a company with a shortage of skilled workers and the need to continually recruit and train new employees.
Labor shortages can also impact production schedules. Short-staffed companies must often rely on overworked crews, which leads to a rise in accidents that result in injuries to employees and damage to equipment, causing delays and increasing costs. All these labor challenges are time consuming and costly, and adversely impact a business's ability to operate efficiently and effectively.
In addition to labor issues, the current supply chain faces chaos and perpetual pivots on almost every other front. Challenges include increasing demand and carrier rate increases, as well as disruptions caused by unpredictable inventory and the uncertainty of evolving customer service expectations.
Higher order volumes, unpredictable inventory and product mix, and evolving customer service expectations all impact manufacturing and warehousing operations. Businesses may need to produce and store more products to meet higher order volumes, which can strain existing resources and increase costs. Constantly adjusting production and storage to meet changing demand while dealing with the necessary product mix variations and unpredictable inventory availability can be time consuming and costly. Nonetheless, customers expect businesses to provide faster delivery times, personalized service, and other value-added services, all of which require more efficient and flexible operations.
All these factors can impact manufacturing and warehousing operations by increasing costs, slowing down production, and reducing overall efficiency. To cope with these challenges, businesses must adopt strategies and technologies such as bin picking that help them manage inventory more effectively, streamline their operations, and improve their overall agility and flexibility.
Supply Chain Disruption Details
The rapid growth of e-commerce the rise of item-level fulfillment means that businesses must handle a larger number of smaller orders, which can be more complex and time-consuming than handling larger orders. This disrupts manufacturing and warehousing operations, along with and increased demand for shorter delivery times. To keep up with this demand, businesses are adopting new technologies and innovative solutions, such as automation, bin picking, and data analytics. Technology innovations are also changing the way businesses operate, with new tools and systems being introduced that require new skills and knowledge. The pressure is on manufacturing and warehousing operations to become more agile, efficient, and flexible to keep up with the changing demands of customers and the market. As a result, businesses must invest in new technologies and processes and proactively train their staff on new skills.
Three Types of Bin Picking
Automated robotic bin picking, a process in which a robot uses sensors and cameras to identify and select an item from a bin or container, can help manufacturing and warehousing operations address all of these challenges. The robot's arm is programmed to locate and grip the desired item and then transfer it to another location or machine for further processing or packaging. The system can be designed to work with various types of objects and containers, allowing for efficient and accurate picking of items in a production, manufacturing, or logistics environment.
VGR bin-picking technology is designed to meet all types of manufacturing needs. Three types of bin picking are structured, semi-structured, and unstructured.2
- Structured bin picking involves using predefined containers with well-organized items that are arranged in a consistent pattern. The robot can easily identify and pick items because they are in a fixed location, and the robot knows where to look for them.
- Semi-structured bin picking involves objects that are placed randomly in a container but with some level of consistency in their orientation or shape. The robot may require additional sensors or cameras to locate the objects, but once it identifies them, it can pick them up using preprogrammed motions.
- Unstructured bin picking involves randomly placed objects of varying shapes, sizes, and orientations. This type of bin picking is the most challenging, as the robot must use advanced sensors and algorithms to recognize and locate the objects. It may require additional steps, such as reorienting the object, to ensure a successful pick.
Picking Robots Demand to Jump by 2030
A report by Interact Analysis suggests that there will be a significant increase in market demand for inventory-picking robots in warehouses, with shipments projected to rise from under 2,000 per year in 2022 to more than 50,000 annually by the end of the decade.3 The UK-based firm predicts that the increasing cost of labor and decreasing cost of robots will lead to the installation of around 150,000 picking robots by 2030. This trend will be driven by labor shortages, increasing wages, and advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine vision technology.
Due to supply chain labor issues, bottlenecks, uncertainties, and disruptions, manufacturers and warehouses need to have flexible and agile operations that can quickly adapt to changes in demand. They may need to stockpile inventory, which can be costly and take up space. Businesses must be able to provide fast, reliable, and personalized service to their customers. This puts pressure on businesses to not only speed up production and delivery times, but also ensure shipment accuracy.
All these factors seem to be working against manufacturers by increasing the complexity and cost of manufacturing and warehousing operations. For businesses that can effectively meet these challenges, they provide opportunities to gain a competitive advantage in the e-commerce marketplace.
Automated picking and packing systems enabled by AMRs and bin-picking cobots help manufacturers cope with the many changes occurring in manufacturing and better manage the quick shipment of large volumes of smaller orders.
- The Resilience of Manufacturing Strengthening people operations and bridging the talent gap amid crisis. (2020). https://workforceinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/The-Resilience-of-Manufacturing.pdf
- Robotic Bin Picking – The Holy Grail in Sight. (n.d.). Automate. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.automate.org/industry-insights/robotic-bin-picking-the-holy-grail-in-sight
- 150k Picking Robots to be Installed by 2030 . . . And We’re Only Scratching the Surface. (n.d.). Interact Analysis. Retrieved April 28, 2023, from https://interactanalysis.com/insight/150k-picking-robots-to-be-installed-by-2030/
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