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From Picking to Packing: Streamlining Processes with Robotics in Warehouses

L-A-C Logistics Automation is at the forefront of designing and implementing innovative Robotics solutions tailored to modern warehousing needs. In this article, we explore the popular types of robotics used for picking and packing operations, each designed to enhance warehouse efficiency and streamline operations. From Robot Palletisers to Autonomous Mobile Robots, our aim is to help you understand the best-fit options available and the benefits of implementing Robotics as an effective operational solution for your business.

Automation Overview


In the dynamic landscape of logistics and supply chain management, the integration of robotics in warehouses has become a pivotal element in attaining enhanced operational efficiency. As the e-commerce sector in particular continues to escalate and customer expectations for faster deliveries rise, the efficiency and accuracy of warehouse tasks are more crucial than ever. From picking items from a host of varied storage locations to packing them with care and accuracy for shipment, robotics are enhancing these essential processes, driving considerable improvements in the overall speed, precision, and cost-effectiveness of operations.

The Evolution of Warehouse Robotics

The journey of robotics began mid-20th century on industrial production lines and has rapidly progressed to be a common sight in today’s warehouses and distribution centres as well as food & beverage, grocery and manufacturing facilities.

 

 Since its inception, robotics technology has advanced significantly to now provide an accessible platform for operators to be able to leverage enhanced processing power with technologies such artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and sophisticated sensors capable of performing complex picking and packing tasks.

This level of innovation is delivering valuable benefits through making real-time decisions based on accurate data predictions, that optimise operations across multiple applications using both fixed and mobile robotics.

 

The warehouse automation market in 2019 was estimated at $15 billion with the market predicted to grow by 1.5x in the mid-term (by 2025) and further expected to cross $37.6 billion by 2030. This planned growth offers significant opportunity for companies wishing to adopt or expand the use of robotics to enhance warehouse picking and packing operations and overall efficiency.

IRB 390 FlexPacker

Inbound Put-Away/De-Palletising

Before key picking and packing tasks can take place, there are a number of inbound put-away and de-palletising operations to be carried out to ensure goods are suitably sorted and located within the warehouse or production facility. At the goods received/inbound area, operations may be required to further condition pallets or dollies so that they can be moved onto downstream processes, such as to bulk storage or pick faces, ready for picking operations.

 

For example – goods may arrive at inbound on pallets and items in boxes or trays may then need to be de-palletised ready for induction into a storage and picking structure such as an Automated Storage and Retrieval System. Similarly, pallets arriving at the inbound area may need to be transported e.g. by a pallet conveyor to an automated pallet storage system.

 

Cross docking is a logistics method in which goods are transferred directly from an incoming transportation vehicle to an outgoing transportation vehicle with minimal handling and storage in between. Automation and robotics can help with cross docking operations by streamlining and simplifying the process, reducing human error, and increasing the speed and accuracy of the transfer of goods. Conveyor-based sorters, AMRs, and computer-aided transportation management systems are a few examples of how automation can be used to improve the cross docking process. Additionally, automation can also help to improve communication and coordination between the different parties involved in the supply chain.

Picking: Precision and Efficiency

With goods now safely stored in their optimal location, the picking process involves retrieving items from these storage areas to fulfil customer orders, ranging from single items to full pallets of goods. Traditionally, this has been a labour-intensive task, often leading to errors and inefficiencies as well as putting a strain on the workforce due its physical nature. However, with the advent of robotic picking systems, warehouses can achieve exceptional levels of accuracy and speed as well as enhanced productivity.

robotics

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS): These systems offer exceptional benefits of space optimisation, speed and accuracy of order picking tasks. Typically, they use cranes and shuttles to move items in and out of high-density storage racks. Controlled by sophisticated software, ASRS can handle high volumes of goods with minimal human intervention, reducing errors and increasing throughput. With exceptional levels of agility for dynamic operations, ASRS solutions offer a sophisticated platform for strategic inventory management, offering improved order accuracy and faster response times, needed for today’s warehouse challenges.

 

Autonomous Mobile Robots: Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) navigate through the warehouse, transporting goods from one location to another. These sophisticated and agile robots use sensors and cameras to avoid obstacles and choose the most efficient paths, ensuring smooth operations. They are highly adaptable and are ideal for use in dynamic environments such as operations with frequent stock rotation or significant peaks in order fulfilment. 

 

Goods-to-Person: When used within high-density storage structures, AMRs offer a highly efficient solution for order fulfilment and replenishment tasks. The AMRs navigate through the storage structure to collect the required tote(s) required for order fulfilment, bringing them to manually operated pick stations where the item(s) are scanned, ready for packing and onward shipment. They are equally adept at replenishing totes with additional SKUs when required providing a complete and highly efficient order picking solution capable of transforming e-commerce operations.

 

Collaborative Robots (Cobots): Cobots are an agile solution for warehouse operations, both for picking and packing. For picking tasks, they work alongside human operatives in both order preparation and pick-and-place processes bringing enhanced productivity and accuracy to these vital order picking processes. 

 

Robotic Arms: Equipped with advanced vision systems and AI, robotic arms can identify and grasp items of various shapes and sizes. These robots can pick items from bins or shelves and work seamlessly with other forms of automation, such as conveyors, taking goods onto dedicated packing stations. Their ability to work autonomously without breaks or errors significantly boosts productivity.

 

Automated Guided Vehicles: Conversely to AMRs, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) navigate their surroundings by following predetermined routes defined by physical elements installed on the warehouse floor. AGVs are highly effective in carrying out repetitive, predefined tasks such as transporting goods, pallet handling, loading & unloading activities for both lightweight and heavy goods and can be operated autonomously or collaboratively. Overall AGVs offer exceptional levels of efficiency and accuracy in a safe environment.

ABB FlexPicker

Packing: Speed and Consistency

Once items are picked, they need to be packed securely for onward shipping to the customer. Robotic systems enhance the packing process by ensuring consistency and speed, which are vital for meeting customer expectations and reducing overall shipping costs.

 

Automated Packing Stations: These versatile systems automatically size boxes to fit the items being shipped, reducing the need for excess packaging materials. Robots at these stations can also insert packing materials and seal the boxes, reducing waste and streamlining the entire process.

 

Collaborative Robots (Cobots): Cobots work alongside human workers, assisting with tasks such as labelling, taping, and sorting packages. Their ability to handle repetitive and strenuous tasks allows staff to focus on more complex and value-added activities, improving overall efficiency.

 

Quality Control: Robotics equipped with vision systems can inspect packages to ensure they meet quality standards. These robots can check labelling, seal integrity, and weight accuracy, ensuring that only correctly packed items leave the warehouse, improving customer satisfaction and reducing the likelihood of costly returns.

Combined Picking & Packing Technologies

Palletising / De-palletising Robotics: Specialist palletising robot systems are designed to strap, wrap, check, weigh and automatically print and apply labels to offer a complete robot palletising solution. Palletising robot systems range from single robot cells to complete production lines using multiple robot palletisers. As these systems can be modular in design, they can be configured to work with shuttle cars, turntables and pallet de-stackers providing larger-scale solutions that can be run with minimal operator interaction. They also integrate seamlessly with other automation technology such as conveyors, AMRs and ASRS solutions, ensuring a seamless approach to operations. Additionally, de-palletising robots can be integrated to fully automate the process of unloading products from pallets to further streamline and enhance operations.

 

Complete Picking & Packing Lines: A range of robotics and automation technology can be implemented to provide complete packaging lines providing a highly efficient, accurate, and fully automated solution to handle item picking, packing case erection, closing, labelling and palletising, ready for onward shipment.

 

Sortation Systems: The task of sorting, routing and segregating products and SKUs is an integral part of intralogistics operations in sectors such as e-commerce, post & parcel, manufacturing and retail. Advanced robotics technology can be integrated to automate the various sorting processes including picking, packing, consolidation, and shipping, to improve the overall sortation performance through efficient and accurate handling, often at high speeds.

 

Re-Pack Operations: The growing trend for Shelf Ready Packaging (SRP) leads to the additional task of breaking down multiple pure-SKU pallets and re-packing into mixed SKU packaging, followed by re-palletising prior to onward distribution. Whether this is a requirement direct at the production or manufacturing site, or within a 3PL warehouse, a complete automated line solution can be integrated covering pallet de-palletising, product singulation, sortation, pack formatting, case erection, re-packing, closing, labelling, re-palletising, wrapping & labelling, all ready for dispatch.

 

Integration and Optimisation

The true power of robotics in warehousing lies in their integration with warehouse control systems (WCS) or warehouse management systems (WMS). By connecting all implemented robots to one central system, warehouses can achieve real-time visibility and effective control over their operations.

 

Data Analytics: By analysing data from robotic systems, warehouse managers can identify potential bottlenecks, predict maintenance needs which may impact productivity, and optimise workflows throughout the facility. Taking a positive, data-driven approach helps towards continuous improvement and effective decision-making.

 

Flexibility and Scalability: Modern robotic systems are designed to be flexible and scalable to suit their dynamic environment. As demand fluctuates, warehouses can easily add or reconfigure robots to meet changing needs, ensuring a resilient and adaptable operation is maintained.


Streamlining Picking and Packing Operations – The Power of Robotics

 

The escalating adoption of robotics in warehousing, manufacturing, production and distribution centre environments is not just a short-term trend but a vital necessity with the continued growth in demands on industry sectors such as e-commerce and food & beverage. By streamlining these processes, robotics provide numerous benefits, including increased efficiency, accuracy, and cost savings. As technology continues to advance, the potential for further innovations in warehouse robotics is vast, promising even more efficient and responsive picking and packing operations in the future.

 

Integrating robotic technology in warehouse environments significantly reduces labor costs, enhances conveyor systems efficiency, and improves overall warehouse productivity. The use of advanced sensors in various types of robots, such as autonomous robots and industrial robots, ensures precision in picking items from shelves, thus minimising error rates and increasing accuracy.

 

Robotic solutions, including advanced robots and automation systems, optimise the fulfilment process by managing inventory levels and expanding storage capacity. These solutions are particularly beneficial in the warehousing industry, where efficient management of space and resources is crucial. The deployment of conveyor belts and other automated systems further boosts warehouse efficiency and safety, reducing the risk of injuries and enhancing the work environment for warehouse operators.

 

The benefits of warehouse robotics extend to improved sorting processes, accurate inventory management, and increased storage space utilisation. Common types of warehouse robotics, such as AGVs and AMRs, are instrumental in tackling challenges in the logistics industry, ensuring that the warehousing sector meets the growing demands of e-commerce and other industries. As robotic technology continues to evolve, it offers advanced solutions for managing heavy items, optimising the storage and retrieval of goods, and streamlining the entire fulfilment process. These advancements not only enhance warehouse productivity but also set new standards in the efficiency and effectiveness of supply chain operations.

 

L-A-C Logistics Automation – who we are and what we do

 

L-A-C Logistics Automation is a renowned UK-based company specialising in the design, manufacture, and installation of conveyor systems, automation solutions, and bespoke robotic systems for a wide variety of material handling requirements. With a focus on innovation and quality, L-A-C has established itself as a leading solution provider in materials handling and automation systems across multiple industry sectors.

 

Our commitment to excellence is evident in our approach to each project. We pride ourselves on our innovative thinking, aiming to be recognised as best-in-class solution providers. Our dedicated team with industry-leading talents, embodies a ‘can-do’ attitude which enables us to continuously improve the quality of our products and enhance the effectiveness of our solutions.

 

We offer a range of solutions tailored to diverse industries, including logistics automation, food & beverage automation, and special purpose automation. Over the past decade, our services have been utilised by businesses of all sizes, including some of the most well-known global brands, contributing to our rapid growth and status as one of the UK’s leading conveyor manufacturers and system integrators.

 

Our operations are based in Nottingham with a highly skilled team of conveyor, robotic, automation technology and software solution specialists, all adept at designing and delivering high-quality, innovative and tailored solutions, meeting the specific requirements of our customers.

 

At L-A-C, we are not just a manufacturer; we are a partner in automated innovation, dedicated to providing exceptional solutions in materials handling and automation systems. Start your journey by contacting our team of experts today.

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY TODAY

L-A-C’s team of experts are here to support you from concept to the finished system, working together to design and deliver a bespoke solution that meets your current objectives and future growth expectations, with favourable ROI. 

 

Across semi-automated and fully automated systems, L-A-C has the expertise and range of products to provide flexible and scalable solutions that will significantly enhance your operations and keep you agile as your business evolves. 

 

Join us on a pivotal journey towards a more efficient, productive, cost effective and sustainable future with L-A-C’s innovative automation technology solutions.



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