Robotics becomes a critical supply chain infrastructure

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Due to the rise of e-commerce in the last year and a half, staff shortage in the supply chain has intensified. Robotics and automation could be a useful tool to deal with that problem. ‘Every warehouse operator says it is hard to find staff,’ begins Vince Martinelli, Head of Product and Marketing at RightHand Robotics for the latest July edition of The Logistics Point Magazine.

RightHand Robotics builds a data driven intelligent piece-picking platform with the key goal to create a predictable fulfilment capacity. The technology in robotics can pick up warehouse jobs that are repetitive and do not require specialised skills. Martinelli is quick to clarify that warehouse workers will still be part of the operations and will execute jobs that need more variety.

‘The e-commerce supply chain became essential and was needed to supply basic food,’ Martinelli explains, looking at how automation has developed over the course of the pandemic. If in the very beginning, retailers were slow to realise the importance of automation, they soon accepted that such technologies are a critical part of their operations. In the USA retailers listed workers of software and

automation companies as essential to allow them to support the network.

The last few months have given the chance for robotics to prove itself as a useful tool that can alleviate many of the problems e-commerce and retailers have in day-to-day operations.

Secondly, retailers do not want to have to deal with the same problems a few years down the road in case there is another disruptive or unforeseen event. ‘It has been a fairly busy spring in terms of customers’ interest,’ admits Martinelli. ‘We are seeing strategic interests from customers and integrator partners.’

European Growth

RigthHand is expanding into the European market with the opening of a demonstration centre in Germany. EMEA Senior Sales Manager Roderik ter Beek echoes Martinelli’s observation on the way retailers in Europe are embracing automation in their stores and warehouses.

‘The RightPick Center in Nürnberg will give customers and partners an opportunity to get an up-close look at the piece-picking solutions and directly interact with regional teams for further education,’ shares ter Beek.

The robots are best suited for picking smaller items at locations in the warehouse where goods are brought to a station and need to be sorted out into individual boxes and be packed into orders. ‘Such robots really work well at transition points,’ continues Martinelli. Of course, the technology has some constraints. Robots are static and do not move up and down at the moment.

The reason is that such movement would require deeper integration and shelf structuring. RightHand’s system integrates well with mobile robots that can deliver goods to it for sorting.

Future development

For Martinelli the warehouse of the future would use a hybrid model with robots and humans working together. He believes people are good at certain tasks that robots would struggle with. In addition, there will be the need for human intervention in case of a problem and also the need for continuous maintenance. ‘If you are shipping the same item from a warehouse, you can automate the process,’ Martinelli explains. ‘Automating across a larger range of SKUs is a bigger challenge.’ ✷

Read more stories from our July edition NOW!

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