Manual processes, such as inventory putaway and order picking, are not only time-consuming (i.e., costly), but they increase the likelihood of mistakes, leading to longer order fulfillment times and, in turn, dissatisfied customers who can easily shop elsewhere. The risk of employees getting hurt on the job from physically moving, lifting and transporting boxes of products is real, too.
Enter the rapidly advancing field of warehouse robotics, which employs sensor technology and other innovations to automate and speed many warehouse tasks. The robots used in automation range from the conveyor belts that have been in use in manufacturing for more than a century; to automated sortation systems, or voice-directed warehouse procedures involving mobile headsets; to automated guided vehicles that transport materials around a warehouse.
Warehouse automation typically involves a large capital outlay. The holy grail is the “lights-out warehouse,” where vehicles and machines effectively do all the work with little or no direct human involvement. These warehouses are called “lights out” because the various machines in them don’t rely on sight to do their work.
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