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Companies lag behind in adopting robot-operated ‘dark’ warehouses

More companies are exploring ways to put robots in warehouses, but we may have to wait a few years for the technology to catch up.

More than one-fifth of warehouse operators Invest in automation help address labor shortageespecially when they worked to handle E-commerce orders soar during a pandemic. Some companies are looking at full automation requiring few employees. These ‘lights off’ or ‘dark’ warehouses (so called because robots don’t need as much lighting as humans) require significant upfront costs and face the limits of robotic technology. . Craft your items.

An analysis of costs and benefits in the current job market is causing some warehouse operators to look at ways to boost automation, operators and executives said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a U.S. worker in the warehouse and storage industry will be $43,820 as of May 2021, up from $41,110 in May 2019.

“It’s a combination of ample human resources and very expensive human resources. It makes automation much easier to justify,” said President and Chief Executive Officer of the Americas region at warehouse technology company Swisslog Holding AG. One Sean Wallingford said: “So I think we will continue to see that movement in the future.”

In 2019, German online pharmacy company Group opened a 220,000 square foot warehouse in the Netherlands. Using automation in this warehouse, he is processing 25,000 to 30,000 orders a day, with about 20 employees working every three shifts. The company has invested more than $100 million in building and automation, said company founder and former chief executive Michael Fritsch.

Fritsch said a manual warehouse would require about 400 employees and about double the warehouse space to handle the same number of orders. He also said he needed to hire licensed pharmacy professionals for these roles and would have faced the challenge of finding the number of qualified people and paying them higher salaries.

“You can’t find this many pharmacists in one town, so that’s the problem,” he said. “We couldn’t have done this without it. [the robots]”

The warehouse uses a robotic picking arm from RightHand Robotics Inc. in Somerville, Massachusetts, and is able to pick 97% of the pharmacy’s inventory because the items are relatively uniform in size, said Fritsch. increase.

A robotic arm picks and packs goods in the automated warehouse of online pharmacy in the Netherlands.


right hand robotics

About 20% of warehouses will use some form of robotics by 2022, up from 15% in 2018, according to research firm Interact Analysis. One of the most elusive challenges in developing warehouse automation is training robots to mimic human hand movements so they can handle customer orders of all shapes and sizes.

Luke Jensen, CEO of Ocado Solutions, the grocery partnership arm of a technology provider

okado group,

Most of the individual items are hand-bagged for delivery at the company’s warehouses.Ocado Group partners with grocery giant

kroger Ltd.

upon Build an automated fulfillment center all over america

Jensen says training a robotic arm to lift about 50,000 different groceries in all kinds of packages is complicated.

Ocado’s warehouse also suffered three fires in three years, caused by collisions between robots, an electrical failure in a battery charging unit, and a fire in a waste packaging container outside the warehouse. Jensen said the company made changes after the first fire in 2019 to limit damage from subsequent fires. Ltd.

last year New mechanical arm announced E-commerce company Sparrow says it can identify and process millions of items, representing about 65% of Amazon’s total inventory. Initially, the device is used to group items by order just before they are packed.

According to Swisslog’s Wallingford, some warehouses are easier to automate than others based on how goods are packed, as robots have limited dexterity.

“If it was just a complete case from point A to point B, today we can automate it pretty well,” says Wallingford.

He said piece picking for e-commerce orders is a challenge when large packages containing large quantities of goods need to be split into smaller packages. said.

Rueben Scriven, senior analyst at Interact Analysis, said investing in an autonomous system is a major financial commitment as the facility could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Few automated warehouses exist today, he said.

Mr Scriven said: “His ultimate goal for the next ten years is [with automation] It really equips humans and makes them more productive. “

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