The manufacture of modern goods requires processes that are not only highly complex but also highly optimized. To succeed, manufacturers rely on robotic systems to efficiently handle materials throughout the supply chain. In this article, we’ll examine some of the industrial applications of robotics in material handling.
What are the Benefits of Robotic Material Handling?
In a nutshell, consistency and improved uptime are two of the primary benefits one can expect from robotic material handling. The alternative – manual material handling – is much slower and less precise. Whereas robotics can transport material consistently and reliably around the clock (save for small periods required for maintenance), material handling processes performed by human workers are prone to error (a statistical inevitability) and take more time to complete. This, of course, means optimized production cannot be attained in a manually operated facility.
The operational speed of robots can drastically reduce the time between cycles. While the true benefit of shorter cycle times can be difficult to pinpoint in the short term, manufacturers who employ robotic material handling robotics will likely see a positive impact on profitability and quality of goods (fewer returns) over the long term.
The automotive industry comprises companies, many of which were the earliest adopters of material-handling equipment. It’s common knowledge that automotive production lines relied heavily on human workers to assemble vehicles, but as time passed, a great majority of the human roles have been replaced by highly efficient material handling solutions at all stages of assembly.
Conveyor systems, in particular, are at the heart of the automotive industrial transformation. With them, all vehicular components can be predictably transported through the various stages of the complex assembly line. Much to the benefit of all, these systems have mitigated the need for many components to be manually lifted and transported from one location to another. It goes without saying that while this change has significantly reduced the number of workplace injuries, it has also helped to improve productivity.
Automated Guided Vehicles
As stated, automotive manufacturers are no strangers to using robotic technologies. Automated Guided Vehicles, or AGVs, are staples of automotive manufacturing. These autonomous robots control material flow from strategically placed storage facilities throughout the plant. AGVs can deliver said material using pre-programmed routes but are also programmed for obstacle avoidance, meaning a blocked path will not delay the material or pose a danger to nearby workers. The nice thing about AGVs is that their deployment can be scaled up to meet the growing needs of the business. Each new investment in an AGV can be tied to quantifiable results without exposing the company to risks that may jeopardize operations.
Automated Vertical Transport Systems
For the truly large and heavy materials and equipment that must be transported from point A to point B, manufacturers can rely on one or more autonomous dump truck systems for driverless, 24-hour on-site hauling support. Referred to as Automated Vertical Transport Systems, or AVTS, these robots can autonomously load and unload material where needed.
Automated Order Filling and Facility Optimization
Material handling isn’t just about ensuring the right raw materials are transported to the correct locations on time. Material handling can also be important in fulfilling customer orders and ensuring plant optimization. Robotics can use data collected in the field to increase the efficiency of stored products and materials so they can be retrieved in the least amount of time.
Depending on the application, material handling robotics must identify and navigate through dozens of boxes of screws, washers, and bolts. Retrieving the correct type and quantity can be an arduous task for a human worker, but this same task poses no difficulty for a system that can recall the location of every single SKU used in the manufacturing process.
Material Handling Efficiency with Robotics
While it would be an exaggeration to say that modern manufacturing requires robotic material handling, it is generally accepted that utilizing robotics to perform material handling functions will only benefit the manufacturer. Less downtime, greater efficiency and output, and reduced loss time accidents mean that material-handling robotic solutions are a great investment for any company.
If you want an exciting career working with robotic material handling systems, learn more about George Brown College’s Robotics Technician Program.