Automated processes driven by robots have been part and parcel of industrial production for many years now. In logistics, however, robotics technologies have long been a niche product. This is because logistics processes were considered too complex and not static enough to be automated in a cost-efficient manner at a professional level.
Nevertheless, the progress made by robotics in recent years has radically altered this perception: smart learning software systems, in conjunction with increasingly powerful processors and sensors, have helped robotics enjoy a breakthrough in logistics as well. Whether it’s warehousing, order picking, goods transport or returns management – robotics can be utilized in virtually every logistics process nowadays.
In this blog post, we’ll show you how robotics both supports logistics processes in practice and generates tangible added value in the supply chain and in post-sales service thanks to effective automation. After all, when used correctly, value-added logistics processes can be optimized in an incredibly targeted manner with the help of robotics.
1. Screening of Incoming Goods
In many logistics centers, incoming goods are tested at random, e.g. by opening a small percentage of shipments after scanning the barcodes of all packages in incoming goods and checking them for completeness. By using intelligent robotics, however, you can automate this complex process and thereby benefit from greater optimization in a whole range of goods areas.
For this purpose, all shipments are recorded once they arrive in the warehouse, e.g. via a barcode or an RFID reader. At the same time, the robotics unit visually scans all incoming cartons in a matter of seconds using photographic or videographic processes. This process is driven by artificial intelligence, which independently detects irregularities such as damage and automatically links all the data collected to each shipment and then archives it. Incorrect consignment of goods can be sorted out immediately by the robotics system as part of this process.
2. Device Testing
Robotics enables you to adopt new sophisticated procedures to test the functionality of individual devices in the supply chain or in after-sales. These procedures are a cost-effective and high-quality alternative to purely manual testing systems.
For example, robotics solutions can check the functionality of the touchscreen on tablets, smartphones and other devices with a simple touch feature. A robotics unit uses a standardized mechanical process to simulate human touch and check it with regard to various parameters. Another example is software-based functionality testing, where the devices are run through a test algorithm to be checked for various software parameters, such as version numbers, data stock or functionality.
3. Device Configuration
Tailoring a device’s software to customers’ individual needs offers them an enhanced user experience. For device manufacturers and distributors, personalization of end devices represents a significant market advantage and can be used as an upselling strategy in after-sales.
Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) help to make the resulting technical process feasible both in terms of quality and cost. When customizing the devices, specific data for each customer can be transferred individually to the respective device via an interface. The user can select the data in advance or allow it to be automated by AI.
4. Device Repairs
While fully automated repairs of devices by robots is currently still in the trial phase, robotics is already making certain repair process steps more cost-effective and of a higher quality.
Robots are used to repair devices for software and hardware-based fault diagnosis and for the final acceptance test. Thanks to standardized self-learning routines, it’s possible to perform these process steps with a high degree of effectiveness.
5. Scaling of Logistical Processes
In an age of e-commerce and cross-border supply chains, the performance of logistics centers is becoming increasingly decisive. Products must be able to be stored, sorted and transported in a quick and efficient manner at all times. These have traditionally been extremely personnel-intensive processes. Fluctuations in the volume of goods are difficult to regulate, especially since the often monotonous and laborious physical work in the warehouse leads to a latent undersupply of well-qualified personnel.
The entry of robotics into logistics centers is a humane and ultimately cost-effective solution to many of these problems: the more activities that can be performed by robots, the better logistical processes can be scaled and adapted to evolving needs, even at short notice, in a financially sound manner.
6. Calculability of Logistical Processes
Autonomous robots bring even more benefits to the supply chain. Lower numbers of staff also reduce the typical follow-up costs faced by purely manual logistics.
This includes all secondary costs associated with the often large turnover of staff: beginning with the overhead costs incurred in the HR and accounting departments for the search and onboarding of new employees, their induction costs as well as ongoing costs for training and education.
7. Quality of Logistics Processes
In modern logistics centers, robots are used in numerous process steps. This begins with the automated unloading and sorting of pallets or individual cardboard boxes, includes the exact digital sequencing of each goods flow and extends to the overall process of picking the goods and sorting of the packages, e.g. onto pallets, in the outgoing goods department.
Using robotics in this way helps to raise process quality to a whole new level, since processes in logistics centers can now be controlled much more seamlessly and changed in a much more flexible manner.
8. Boost Process Consistency
If companies want to improve processes in order to boost the quality of output or the effectiveness of the resources used, data is an indispensable raw material. From this perspective, the increasingly advanced use of robotics in logistics will pay off twofold. This is because robotics not only has a direct positive impact on logistics processes; it also acts as a driver of digitalization for the entire supply chain and after-sales.
Robotics creates numerous new data points in the logistics chain that can be used to better measure, analyze and ultimately optimize logistics processes – for example, by using the Six Sigma methodology.