For a consumer, shopping online is convenient and easy. Visit a website, find a product, click on it and expect the package to show up at your door.  What shoppers don’t see is the automation on the move and the efficiencies that robotics has brought to the industry.

In about five years, the use of robotics in warehouse and distribution centers has gone from being a “premature” science, as noted in The Robot Report, to pick and place technology that creates a make-or-break competitive advantage.

Currently, robots are primarily used within distribution centers to reduce the distances workers have to walk to get products.

Flexible robots have brought change to warehouse and distribution centers and the need has spurred development in collaborative robotics. The technology has to respond to environments that are less structured than the manufacturing sector. Development in logistics should prove beneficial to the use of flexible robots in all industries.

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Fetch Robotics hmishelf - freight mobile platform
Fetch Robotics hmishelf – freight mobile platform (Source: Fetch Robotics)

Demand for automated solutions is growing, and the field remains wide open as Wal-Mart and other large retailers still use mostly people.

Expect innovation to continue. What happened last year in warehouse and distribution automation may very well change this year and next. Autonomous pods that follow markings on the floor are already becoming outmoded in favor of the newest 3D vision systems and mapping software to avoid collisions.

Automation is occurring because it’s necessary and not just because of the bells and whistles and a “wow” factor. A compelling report by logistics giant DHL, Robotics in Logistics, makes the case that a looming labor shortage is very real: “The managers of tomorrow’s supply chains will need to either continue to raise costs while reducing service or will need to compensate with automation that can support workers and increase productivity.”

Automated solutions using sensors and software will continue developing and improving the speed and accuracy that distribution centers fulfill orders.

Read more by Association for Advancing Automation, September 21, 2016

How Robots are Reworking Warehouse and Distribution Centers