The rise of the cobot


MHD sits down with Körber Supply Chain’s dedicated AMR team in APAC to find out how cobots can improve operations in the DC and explore the unique benefits they bring to supply chain and retail operations.

Automation is having a significant impact on distribution centres across the APAC region, largely due to its ability to improve efficiency, safety, and productivity. 

Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are the latest technology solution helping DCs enhance their workflows and empower employees to better manage their time and boost efficiency. 

Simply put, a collaborative robot is a type of robot intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. They are smaller than large-scale high output automation and are cost-effective, safe and flexible. 

According to Körber Supply Chain’s Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) team in APAC, cobots are making automation easier and more accessible than ever before and they are suitable for almost any business size. 

But how do they differ from other tech solutions?

The cobot proposition

Cobots are designed to work with people and work alongside humans to complete daily tasks more effectively and productively. There are many workflows that can be improved with this technology. Picking is one example – cobots can assist in this process to eliminate time-wasted walking from one picking location to the other. The cobot can travel between pick locations and analyse the most efficient way to get there.

An essential element of the cobot proposition is that these robots are built to improve human efficiency, not replace them. Collaborative robots complement what an operator or team member does within the DC, essentially reducing non-productive time and processes (such as travel) while improving accuracy. 

Using picking as an example, Körber research estimates that a warehouse operator completing a picking workflow will often walk around 10 to 15 kilometres a day. “A cobot can move stock in less time while the employees focus their energy and expertise on value-added tasks involved in the process,” Körber Supply Chain’s dedicated AMR team in APAC told MHD. 

Of course, cobots can improve other workflows beyond picking. Any task that requires travel or carrying stock can be enhanced and completed by a cobot. While the machine does the heavy lifting, all the team member needs to do is pick and put products onto the cobot and it does the rest. 

An essential element of the cobot proposition is that these robots are built to improve human efficiency, not replace them.

How do cobots differ from other technology?

Cobots have many unique attributes that make them ideal for use in DCs. Körber Supply Chain’s AMR team in APAC reveals the seven reasons why cobots make good business sense:

1. Smaller

Cobots are generally smaller than other robotic solutions, which make them ideal for quickly moving around a DC. They take up less floor space, and this typically means facilities do not need to change their layout or existing paths to accommodate them. Their small size also ensures they don’t obstruct team member activity and other workflows.

2. Lighter

Similarly, these solutions weigh less than other systems. This helps them be more agile in a warehouse environment. They are still built with the strength necessary to carry stock, but modern materials have made it possible for the cobots themselves to be lighter.

3. Safer

A smaller and lighter robot is naturally safer for employees and its surroundings. While it’s still necessary to do your due diligence and ensure a cobot can safely operate in your existing space, its spec and capabilities lend itself to being an overall safer solution than legacy robotic solutions. Cobots can also take over unsafe tasks, like moving heavy or dangerous stock, so the risk of injury is reduced for your employees.

4. Shorter-lead times

Cobots can be more easily deployed because of their size and configurability. Modern cobots have short lead times and, in some cases, can be purchased off-the-shelf and set up onsite within hours or days as opposed to months.

5. Flexible

DCs are constantly affected by the ebbs and flow of business. Cobots are a flexible solution that adapt to unforeseen peaks and dips in volume to ensure they are always operating efficiently no matter the daily workload. In comparison to traditional automation, cobots are more forgiving of unforeseen or unplanned spikes in volume.

6. Cost-effective

Purchasing and integrating traditional industrial robots can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cobots, on the other hand, are more affordable per unit. Also, because they are easier to integrate, they have a faster payback time.

7. Easy to use

Cobots are also easy to install, integrate and use, which is ideal for DCs wanting to deploy this technology quickly. They are typically controlled by tablets or screens, so there’s no need to install tracks within the DC or manually input coordinates for each task — everything is done with a few directions from an operator.

According to Körber’s AMR team, cobots are more accessible than ever before and suitable for almost any business size.

Körber and Locus Robotics

As a result of the increasing benefits of cobots in the DC environment, Körber has partnered with Locus Robotics, a leading provider of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), including collaborative robots, to bring cutting-edge solutions to the Asia Pacific market. 

Locus’s cobots have been proven to work safely with human employees and drive 200-300 per cent productivity increases for retailers and third-party logistics providers. These industries are facing increased pressure to meet the demand of e-commerce, which has only become a more popular purchasing option due to recent events. Now more than ever, they need a flexible, scalable, and cost-effective solution that can optimise their efficiency, which is what Locus’s cobots provide.

The cobot proposition shows companies that it’s possible to improve their DCs with the addition of collaborative robots. Not only do they speed up routine workflows, but they create a safer environment for the employees working there and offer an attractive ROI. To learn more about implementing cobots into existing DC workflows, contact the Körber Supply Chain dedicated AMR team today. 

For more information on Körber, click here

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