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Other Voices: Automation is on the rise

By Frank Devlin
Marketing manager for advanced technologies, The Raymond Corporation
August 10, 2011

Editor’s Note: The August issue of Modern is dedicated to the workhorse of the warehouse, factory and DC: the lift truck.

The following column by Frank Devlin, marketing manager for advanced technologies at The Raymond Corporation,  is part of Modern’s new Other Voices column. The series, published on Wednesdays, will feature ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analysts, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

With the material handling industry’s focus on increasing labor productivity, it is no surprise that using automation to accomplish material handling tasks in warehouses and distribution centers is a growing trend. With the help of automation — such as emerging technologies like automated lift trucks and robotics — facility managers are able to redeploy resources and multiply the impact of their existing labor force.

Automated lift trucks, a vehicle we refer to as an ALT, are leading the way in automation technology, as they allow for simple, flexible automation solutions without system constraints. These trucks replace manned vehicles in warehouse, distribution, manufacturing and process industries by automating repetitive tasks. They also offer the advantage of being able to be used by an operator as a traditional lift truck.

In addition to increasing labor productivity, additional benefits of utilizing ALTs include:

• ALTs can be integrated into a facility in just a few hours and will do useful work their first day in the facility.
• ALTs do not require modifications to the facility or information technology integration.
• If equipped with a vision-guided system, ALTs can learn up to 15 miles of routes in unlimited configurations without lasers, tape wires or additional infrastructure.
• ALTs can easily change routes and operators can interface with multiple guiding units at one time.
In the last decade, improvements in software and technology have made robots an affordable and sensible choice. Traditionally, palletizing and depalletizing functions have been completed manually, which can lead to product damage. A robotic solution can now offer significant cost savings, increased order accuracy and reductions in product damage. We are seeing an increased interest in applying robotics to material handling applications because of the benefits offered by robotic solutions, which include:

• Robots are capable of building multi-item pallets, and precisely placing each item for optimum shipping density and load stability.
• Robots have been engineered with software to ensure accurate product placement, increasing the stability of pallet loads and reducing product damage.
• Robotic operations can be quickly modified, allowing managers the flexibility to switch robots from handling one product to another with short setup times. Shorter setup times can lead to more output and better throughput.
Continuing to monitor advances in technology will be important in watching the future of automation solutions and the rate at which they are adopted in the material handling industry.

 

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. Contact Bob Trebilcock.


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