Pick it, place it, ship it, all automatic

Warehousing is becoming an increasingly automated system, with robots storing, retrieving and delivering packages day in, day out. In fact, some warehouses use aircraft control style systems to organise and control their robots, due to the complexity of the system. As such, precision is fundamental for the successful running of automated warehouses.

Here Stewart Goulding, managing director at precision drive system supplier EMS Ltd, explains why it is imperative that warehouse robots are installed with high precision actuation.

Warehousing is one of the key industries that is embracing automation, with robots firmly at the centre. Robots can drastically improve many warehouse processes including streamlining and enhancing production efficiency. In fact, Amazon anticipates such potential that it recently unveiled its new warehouse robot, which are purpose built to replace conveyor belt systems.

However, efficiency isn’t the only benefit of incorporating workplace robots. General workplace accidents, including slips, trips and falls, are a considerable threat to worker safety in the warehouse, which accounts for 3.9 million lost workdays in the UK alone in 2018. Incorporating workplace robots and facilitating safer working environments will not only prevent workplace injuries, but also streamline processes.

These benefits, and the return on investment that these products can create, shows how important robotic developments are becoming to the warehousing industry. Additionally, the progress being made in developing these systems means that there are ever more ways to implement warehouse robots.

For example, some warehouses are using centralised systems — similar to those used by air traffic control. These central systems give exact instructions to the robots, which makes sure that they use the most efficient path available. Using this system is advantageous because it allows the robots to be more lightweight as they are not carrying heavy and intricate sensor systems.

On the other hand, some warehouses are implementing dispersed and autonomous robots that can plan their own paths while communicating directly with other robots around them. This creates a network where the robots are continuously communicating and updating each other on their location and movements. Using this decentralised system can prevent the risk of information bottlenecks.

Regardless of how warehouse robots are deployed, their actions must be precise. If a robot movement calibration is not exact, then the impact could be disastrous. The speed and proximity with which the robots work means that small deviations could cause significant damage to the robots, their surroundings and the products. Ensuring that robots have precision actuators that control movement is vital whether it be for propulsion, lifting or gripping.

Gripping is especially important, because regardless of how fast you manage to get a product to a customer, it is no use if it is damaged. For this reason, actuation in grippers must be strong and precise to ensure that the robot has the strength to pick up products and to place them with accuracy.

Selecting drives and motors that can deal with these requirements is vital. For example, FAULHABER BX4 drive in just 32mm diameter have been used successfully in warehouse robot grippers, they have 62 watts of power and can deliver rated torques of up to 72 mNm in continuous operation and peak torques of 96mNm. The high power-density results in a dynamic lightweight motor able to handle packages firmly but with care.

Effective grippers mean that operation managers can be sure that their robots will be able to carry out their duties without dropping, damaging or losing packages.

The use of autonomously and intelligently acting logistics robots in warehouses are becoming more prominent, with their obvious advantages but it remains essential to ensure that care is taken to select the most appropriate drive system for precise reliable actuation to allow them to reach their full potential.

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