Efficient order fulfillment is a key ingredient for companies trying to create a seamless supply chain. However, because today's business environment is so fast-paced and e-commerce is booming, it's challenging for human warehouse workers to meet demand.
Major technological advancements mean more organizations are exploring the potential of automation, most often in robotics. Robots are commonly used in construction, engineering, architecture, health care, food packaging and manufacturing.
Picking-and-packing robots are especially useful in warehouses, allowing organizations maximum operational efficiency. Here’s more about the pick and pack process and five machines that can speed up order fulfillment.
In a modern warehouse, the pick and pack process describes a fulfillment method involving picking the right type and number of items and packing them to ship to customers. It typically includes four essential steps:
Additionally, there are four common pick and pack methods warehouses use, including:
While piece and batch picking would work for a small company with human employees, it's easy to see how zone and wave picking could become more of a challenge. The production line becomes slower without enough workers to handle high order volume, creating an inefficient order fulfillment process.
Companies might develop their iterations of the pick and pack process to suit their unique needs. For example, a small startup might be able to use piece picking, whereas a larger, well-established corporation would likely use zone or wave picking.
Warehousing is an essential component of supply chain management, but the industry is grappling with various issues, such as supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. According to an Instawork report, almost 60% of light industrial businesses struggled to keep up with increased demand last year. Additionally, 75% of them felt unprepared going into 2022.
A report from Willis Towers Watson (WTW) revealed that almost three in four employers struggle to attract potential employees and 61% face difficulties with retention. Some organizations are testing new recruiting and retention strategies, such as offering bonuses, giving workers scheduling flexibility and supporting remote work accommodations.
How can companies meet demand, stay on schedule and boost revenue without a competent workforce? One way is by investing in robots or working with engineers to design their own robotic grippers to suit their processes. Robots and other new automation technologies could help alleviate organizations' common pain points by creating an automated warehouse fulfillment system.
Picking and packing robots will become increasingly valuable for supply chain members. Warehouses that fail to adopt robots will likely be at a significant disadvantage compared to those that implement automated solutions. In addition to handling repetitive, mundane tasks, robots can reduce the risk of employee injury, improve production speed, and optimize picking, sorting and storing within a warehouse. Below are five trusted pick-and-pack robots that organizations can invest in to achieve high efficiency in a high-demand environment.
FANUC America is a leading robotics company with over 25 million automation products installed worldwide. FANUC has many automated solutions with applications in numerous industries, including aerospace, consumer goods, electric vehicles (EVs), medical devices and warehousing.
The FANUC M-20ib/25 is considered the first in the company's new generation of robots. It's a fully enclosed powerlifter that works best for pick and packing, arc welding, assembly and more. It can handle demanding industrial environments and harsh processing conditions.
KUKA is another leader in the industry. The company in Augsburg, Germany, has around 14,000 employees and earned 33 billion euros in sales revenue. KUKA's high-performance DELTA robots are perfect solutions for picking and handling small items or parts. For example, many organizations in the food and beverage industry leverage KUKA robots.
The KUKA DELTA robot has a stainless steel body, which is ideal for hygienically sensitive areas. For example, it can directly contact food, medicine or electronic components. It protects against dust and moisture, has a wide range of motion, and is highly precise and energy efficient.
The Pearson Robotic Top Loader (RTL-MX) can automate top load case packing of randomly oriented and easily damaged items. According to Pearson Packaging Systems product specifications, it can pick 68-88 products per minute, depending on the stack pattern.
Another interesting feature of this pick-and-pack robot system is safeguarding against accounting for failure. In other words, if the robot fails to function properly, the system's automatic plowing device diverts products to a belt with manual workers. This diversion helps maintain efficiency in various applications.
One trusted robot with top load loading and collation technologies is Douglas Machine’s TriVex RL. The versatile packing system can pack up to 25 cases per minute. The TriVex RL robot is a great solution for companies with high production demand.
Top load case packers offer several benefits for manufacturers. Some automatically pack randomly oriented, easily damaged items to maintain product integrity.
ABB Group also has a lineup of pick-and-pack robots to help create a smooth production line. The ABB FlexPicker IRB 365 is an ideal solution for organizations packing lightweight goods. Its key features include 3D picking, bottle handling and unscrambling, parcel sorting, secondary packaging and feeding.
The FlexPicker IRB 365 robot is often used by the food and beverage, pharmaceutical, consumer goods and logistics industries. Recently, ABB announced a new partnership with Scalable Robotics, a U.S.-based startup, to build its portfolio and develop user-friendly robotic welding systems.
The inVia Picker robot is a small, safe, easy-to-use autonomous robot that assists with order fulfillment. inVia is featured in publications such as Forbes, ZDNet, TechCrunch, the Wall Street Journal and FOX Business. Companies might invest in inVia Robots because the company uses a robotics-as-a-service business model.
Organizations benefit from this model because they can pay for inVia's robots, software and engineering expertise with a subscription, thus reducing the barriers to implementing automation. Companies can choose from three plan options: software only, automated labor or automated warehouse, depending on their business needs.
Experts suggest that supply chain operations will improve in the coming months, but the worker shortage will likely persist. Implementing automated picking and other robots into your warehouse could help improve operations.
Organizations are eager to find a feasible solution to understaffing, as it can negatively impact operations. Because the field of robotics is constantly evolving, the robots listed above and others will likely become more advanced and offer more features for users.
Pick-and-pack robots could be a game-changer for production lines, as they speed up operations and help organizations achieve maximum efficiency.