E-Commerce Growth Drives Collaborative Innovation in Automated Bin-Picking and Packaging
Online sales show no sign of slowing and the growth is driving demand for fulfillment operations to pack and ship all those ordered goods. The work is repetitive, however, and requires high accuracy to reduce costly errors or returns. That means that jobs in picking and packaging items for shipping aren’t particularly desirable, especially in tight labor markets. These tasks are ideal for automation, but there are challenges. While repetitive, packaging applications are also highly variable, requiring the ability to recognize and pick a wide range of items, in different sizes, weights, and materials. And human workers are typically still needed for upstream and downstream processes that are often performed right next to the packaging operation.
With that combination, collaborative robots fit the bill perfectly.
Cobots offer low upfront costs, flexible implementation, and easy programming for developers who are rapidly creating innovative new systems to optimize bin-picking and packaging. And with no need for safety guarding (after risk assessment), they are ideal for collaborative operations next to human workers.
Watch the innovative bin-picking and packaging solutions from RightHand Robotics, Accutech Packaging, and Eurosort:
E-Commerce Growth Drives Collaborative Innovation in Automated Bin-Picking and Packaging.
RIGHTHAND ROBOTICS FINDS THE “HOLY GRAIL” OF FLEXIBLE GRIPPING
RightHand Robotics team member Nadia Cheng explains that robots have traditionally been used in manufacturing to perform the same task millions of times. In the supply chain industry, however, with millions of different items in the warehouse, the robot might be doing each task just once, but for a million different things. “It’s not reasonable for a warehouse to have 3D models of all the items in the warehouse. The real challenge is to enable robots to pick things that it’s never seen before, just as a person can.”
The RightHand Robotics system can run on any robot arm, but Cheng says that many customers prefer UR robot arms because they are collaborative and safe to work side-by-side with humans in warehouse environments. “To have collaborative arms that are as easy to work with as the UR arms give us a very accessible solution,” Cheng says. She adds, “I was blown away by how easy it was to use, and how elegant the whole process was.”
ACCUTECH PACKAGING INCREASES FULFILLMENT PRODUCTIVITY BY 8-10X
Mike Keneally, vice president of Accutech Packaging, explains the advantages of automating these processes for e-commerce retailers or pharmacies. “They are manually opening bags, loading product into it, printing a packing slip, putting it in the bag, and then applying a shipping label. All of that is very time-consuming. On average, a packer can operate at 65 to 85 packages an hour. With our technology, we are able to increase the productivity of an individual packer to something like 600 packages an hour.” That’s an 8X to nearly 10X improvement in productivity, which is critical to meet consumer demands for fast product fulfillment. The RightHand Robotics system combines a fingered gripper with a suction cup along with a UR robot arm to provide a system that is reliable and fast to meet the 600 packages-per-hour goals.
Accutech’s Keneally says that the market demand for this system is phenomenal. “Everything is moving online, and so they’re looking for better ways of packaging their items, particularly when it is so difficult to find many people to work for them,” Keneally states. “Adding that robotic technology is significant to enable our customers to really fulfill their customers’ requirements.”
Nadia Cheng, a team member with RightHand Robotics, explains how her company has developed a complete piece-picking solution for the supply-chain industry.
Vice president of Accutech Packaging, Mike Keneally, explains how a tight labor market makes Accutech’s solution even more appealing to e-commerce retailers.
EUROSORT ADDRESS LABOR SHORTAGE WITH COLLABORATIVE ROBOTIC SORTING
Scott Eisenberg, a key account manager for Eurosort, is very familiar with the challenge of filling material-handling jobs, and how collaborative automation can help. “In the whole material-handling industry, there’s a labor problem—either a labor shortage or quality of labor—and having robotic induction helps with that,” he says. That’s especially true when warehouses are located far from areas where workers live, and during peak seasons when it can be difficult to find and train workers.
The Rightpick system, inducting onto the EuroSort Split-Tray sorter, is designed to work alongside people. That makes the collaborative robot arm important. Eisenberg explains, “With a lot of other arms, you have to have a big cage, you have to kind of keep them away from the rest of the inductors. By using the UR arm, we can stand right next to it.” Human workers can be inducted along with the robot, and not have to worry about their safety. “It’s a really great collaborative effort between robot and person,” he states.
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