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Big Picture: The state of automation

More companies are looking to materials handling automation to improve processes and lower operating costs. Modern asked 10 leading systems integrators what the future of automation might look like.
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Conveyor and sortation systems are using software and controls to manage the flow of goods while distributing work in a way that eliminates bottlenecks.

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
May 01, 2012

Kuka Systems: March of the robots
While most companies see an explosion in automation, Brian Keiger, global technology sales leader for Kuka Systems, takes a contrarian view. He expects to see a slow down in the move to automate, at least in the short run. That, he adds, may be a good thing.

“Twenty five tons of product are being picked per day in the average warehouse,” Keiger says. “In the past, a full pallet of product came in and a full pallet with maybe eight SKUs of product was shipped out. Today, we’re seeing pallets with eight SKUs per layer and the package types are outrageous.”

At the same time, he adds, the baby boomers with a unique attitude and skill set are retiring. “The kids coming out of college don’t want to stand around and pick all day long,” he says. With those trends as a backdrop, companies are asking new questions about how they operate their facilities. Those questions are leading to the coming pause in automation.

“End users aren’t just looking at picking,” Keiger says. “They’re wondering if they should automate storage or if they should automate the movement of goods. As they get more thoughtful, they’re slowing down their purchases of automation—at least temporarily.”

Just as the end user community is looking beyond automated solutions for picking, so is Kuka Systems. “We’re looking at total warehouse solutions,” Keiger says. “We’re developing solutions that can handle everything from a 2-inch by 2-inch box up to a 48-inch by 48-inch box. And, we’re launching a mobile robot that can move a load weighing up to 3,500 pounds.”

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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