Adapt or Die: Why Adaptive Robotics is the Way of the Future (and Fixed Automation Isn’t)

According to a report from Deloitte, 35 percent of supply chain managers have already incorporated robotics in their logistics systems, and 74 percent plan to do so in the next decade. It is becoming increasingly clear that automation is the new rule – not the exception – if e-tailers want to stay competitive.

In the past, many warehouse managers invested in fixed automation systems, in which a solution is configured upfront to fit a specific workflow and throughput. While these systems may initially increase productivity, fixed automation is a quick-fix for a long-term problem.

What happens when conditions change? How can a fixed automation system account for seasonal fluctuations in demand, or adjust for disruptions in its warehouse environment?

Enter adaptive robotics. An adaptive robotic system is able to shift operations in real-time, without the need for labor intensive configuring and retrofitting that accompanies a fixed automation system. While implementing adaptive robotic systems may seem daunting at first, they provide several key benefits to warehouse operations that fixed automation systems do not.

  1. Quickly modify workflow

    Pick-and-place equipment used in fixed automation requires custom feed systems that are unable to adapt to changes in workflow. For example, seasonality or increased consumer demand can necessitate a business’ throughput to increase three or four times above average. This requires a completely different workflow that cannot be readily achieved with fixed automation systems in place.

    On the other hand, adaptive robotics can quickly modify workflow to account for spikes in demand, without the need for time-consuming or costly upgrades to a warehouse’s system. This not only enables a seamless transition, but is also more cost-efficient than re-configuration or hiring additional human pickers.

  2. Adapt to a constantly changing environment

    Both navigation and item manipulation have proved difficult when dealing with diverse products and layouts within the warehouse. The placement of conveyors, shelving layouts, anchoring, mezzanines and power requirements also pose challenges for fixed automation systems. Further, the equipment must be recognized and localized accurately. This is an expensive undertaking, as fixed systems require custom engineering and machining work that must be done upfront.

    Adaptive robotics combat these challenges as they are designed to maintain functionality even as their surroundings shift. Adaptive manipulation systems are able to deal with potential obstructions, such as forklifts, people, random boxes and pallets, as well as imprecisely placed products that still need to be picked accurately.

  3. Able to scale easily

    If a company using fixed automation wishes to increase their output, the level of fixed automation must be increased accordingly. This means that businesses investing in these systems must accurately predict their future needs years in advance, and pay for the solution upfront to ensure it can keep up as they grow. This makes it harder for smaller companies to compete with more established companies in the face of business uncertainty.

    With adaptive robotics, smaller e-tailers can ramp up quickly without guesstimating throughput several years in the future. As demand increases, adaptive systems can scale quickly – even within the span of a couple of hours – without additional resources or machinery. This lowers cost overall, as companies are paying just for the resources that they are using, rather than installing a fixed automation system that either operates at much higher levels than a company’s average throughput.

Robotic systems are key for warehouse managers to ensure the efficiency and productivity of their fulfillment processes; however, before investing in a permanent automation solution, it’s important to ensure that a robotic solution will fit both current and future workflows. The inVia team has built an adaptive robotics system that augments productivity and can scale with growth and change, maintaining cost-efficiency and operating at the current speed of your business.

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