Material handling involves various product movements on the facility floor, including picking, transferring, palletizing, packing, loading, and loading. But most of these tasks are done manually, making them repetitive and tedious.
Robots in material handling enable the automation of most dull, unsafe, and tedious tasks in a production line. Material handling robots improve the efficiency of the production line and enhance customer satisfaction by ensuring workers can fulfill orders promptly.
This article will examine the benefits of robots in material handling and what tasks they can perform.
Are Robots Ideal for Material Handling?
Material handling is an essential part of every industry’s operation. Workers are always picking up items, materials, finished products, and parts, sorting them, moving them around, and storing them.
Such tasks are variable, and you might doubt whether you can automate them. Manual material handling may seem like the only way to go about it because automation needs objects that can be presented regularly and consistently.
Although incorporating robots in material handling may seem challenging or impossible, it is feasible and has numerous benefits. The robot deployment process often reveals opportunities for regularity that you didn’t see before.
Benefits of Robotic Material Handling
Robots are effective in overcoming most of the challenges in manual material handling. Some of the benefits of deploying robots in material handling include:
Robots Allow Workers to Focus On Higher-Value Tasks
When people talk about robotics, they focus on the potential replacement of human employees. In reality, robots complement human effort, and facilities that transition to selective robotics often don’t do away with their employees.
The roles of employees in the modern world are changing. Robotics enables workers to concentrate on higher value-adding tasks and leave tedious, unsafe, and repetitive tasks to the machines.
Better Access and Use of Data
Data plays an essential role in material handling. To effectively manage your materials, you must understand what quantity you have, where it is located in the store, how much is needed, when to order more, and what time suppliers take to fulfill your orders. This represents islands of data that need to be collected, processed, and stored for future use in decision-making.
Robotic and automated systems have made it easier to collect, analyze, and present data to facility managers, logistics experts, and other professionals.
You can integrate the robots handling materials with the Internet of Things (IoT), which enable the robots to collect data. They will know the materials and quantities they have distributed and to where. They make inventory more visible and can communicate with one another, making data collection and analysis fast.
Improves Quality Control
Robots in material handling can perform quality control inspections and testing. The concept of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) allows robots to identify errors and reduce waste.
Collaborative robots have advanced technologies that enhance their accuracy and allow them to perform tasks that require high precision.
Enhances Workplace Safety
Robots use advanced navigation technologies, such as cameras and sensors, to identify and avoid obstacles. They reduce workplace accidents by either changing direction, reducing speed, or stopping.
Collaborative robots can work safely alongside humans. These robots are lightweight and are capable of learning their environment. By doing so, they can pick items and hand them over to humans in a shared workspace.
In addition, robots can handle tasks that are unsafe for workers. Material handling tasks that require repetitive movements are some of the most dangerous to workers. There is always a risk that employees will strain their bodies, causing musculoskeletal injuries.
More Flexibility and Higher Volume Production
Material handling robots assist facilities in moving materials faster and realize greater flexibility in their operations. Robots do not need breaks or leave days because they don’t get tired. Therefore, they can handle more volumes than human beings.
Collaborative robots are flexible and scalable, allowing facility managers to redeploy them to other tasks. The operator can teach a collaborative robot by moving its arms. The robot will remember movements and perform the task again. Furthermore, this teaching technique does not need computer programing skills.
5 Applications of Robots in Material Handling
Robots have numerous applications in material handling, including:
Packing products for shipment or further processing is a common material handling task. Moreover, it is a non-value-adding task, making it ideal for automation.
Collaborative robots are suitable for packing. They are flexible, and you can seamlessly use the same robot to handle different types of products.
Numerous steps in a production process involve moving components from one area in the building to another. This is a tedious process that robots can easily handle. Robotic carts can quickly distribute parts and pick completed items from various workstations within a facility floor.
Moreover, you can integrate the robots with IoT devices so that they can keep track of the parts they have distributed and picked.
Loading and Unloading Conveyors
Many industries use conveyors to move materials around the facility. However, you need to load and unload items onto them. There are three main ways of dealing with conveyors.
The first is getting a human employee to load and unload the conveyors. However, this is a tedious and repetitive process that does not add value to the products.
The second one is to deploy a complex, customized automated system to channel the products to the next step in the process. This solution may be costly and inflexible.
The third is to use robots to handle the products. The benefit of robots is that they are flexible, and you can redeploy them to other tasks.
Holding Materials in Place
Sometimes, you need someone or something to hold items in place when you are working on them. The conventional approach is to create a custom fixture or use a human to hold the material.
You can easily program a collaborative robot to handle multiple parts without posing any risk to a human. Robots can hold parts in front of a welding or spraying machine.
Palletizing and Depalletizing
Materials arrive in facilities packed into pallets that require depalletizing. This is a boring task that could lead to back injuries. In addition, you need to load products into pallets before shipping them. Robots can handle these back-breaking tasks without the risk of musculoskeletal disorder.
Though material handling tasks are simple, implementing robotic solutions has numerous benefits. However, you need to consider the type of materials you handle, payload, speed requirements, floor space, and facility layout to determine your facility’s ideal material handling robot.