Soon a legion of perception-controlled, mobile robots will be fetching items from shelves in warehouses and distribution centers as well, following the global lead taken by industrial robots in the automotive and electronics sectors. Magazino GmbH, a Munich-based startup company, has already begun to deliver state-of-the-art intralogistics robots.
You don’t need to peer into the crystal ball of trend researchers and futurologists to see the transformative power of digital technology. Just look at the level of automation in car factories, where robots are an essential part of production. And their numbers keep growing. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) trade group, the number of robots worldwide will increase from current 1.2 million to 2.6 million by 2019. Their growth, experts say, is being driven largely by automation, a key competitive factor in the manufacturing sector.
Automated intralogistics on the rise
Automation is impacting intralogistics in some areas as well. For example, high-speed flow storage systems with a racking interface allow the loading and unloading of pallets or packages to be widely automated. More and more self-driving transport vehicles are also being used in distribution centers, where they bring complete shelving units to the order-picking station in general cargo warehouses. But a crucial drawback to this "product-to-man" system is that the vehicles can only be integrated into existing storage infrastructures at a very high cost - if at all. By contrast, automation solutions that can be seamlessly adapted to existing workflows as needed provide warehouse operators with immediate benefits – and they do so at a time when e-commerce requires faster processing times and professional returns management.
Intelligent logistics robots rolling through warehouses and relieving the picking process
Magazino recently introduced a robotics solution to meet intralogistics needs. Its intelligent, mobile order-picking robot TORU doesn’t bring products to the picking station but instead drives to the shelf and automatically picks up individual items. This “pick-by-robot” solution operates in much the same way as a warehouse worker does.
Unlike controlled production environments, where robots work with repetitive work processes and exactly the same parts, a general cargo warehouse requires far more flexibility for an intralogistics automation concept. This means the robot has to share the same workspace as warehouse employees and be able to work alongside them without issue,
says Frederik Brantner, co-founder and commercial manager of Magazino, which was launched in 2014.
The autonomous order-picking robot is indeed impressive with its learning capacity and flexible application possibilities. The mobile robot quickly finds its way around existing or changing warehouse environments, automatically navigating to items requested by the storage management system via WiFi. It also reacts en route to potential obstacles in real time, recognizes the requested item and automatically retrieves it from the shelf. It can temporarily store collected items in an integrated changing shelf and bring them later to the intended destination. At the heart of this technical capability to recognize places and objects, which can be seamlessly transmitted to the robot via a radio signal, are 2D and 3D cameras that allow the robot to perceive its surroundings.
Completely new business models thanks to “pick-by-robot” concept
One of the big technological challenge that has faced Magazino software developers is how to master the gripping process, given the variety of possible objects. The engineeers have chosen a modular concept in which one of multiple picker arms can be selected. For example, the "TORU Cube" can grasp square-shaped objects, from small paperback books to shoe boxes and heavy dictionaries. The "TORU Flex" uses a suction gripper, or a gripper arm, with a robotic hand that can even enables "bin-picking."
Interest in Magazino’s perception-controlled, mobile robots is used, considering its potential to revolutionize warehouse operations. Its benefits range from expanding operating hours and relieving staff of simple routine activities to avoiding order-picking errors by using untiring robots.
Several firms in Germany including the book distributor Sigloch and the logistics service provider Fiege have implemented Magazino robots following successfully testing. The company’s "pick-by-robot" concept is expected to lead to completely new business practices and models in the future, maintains co-founder Brantner. "Our solution allows not only for the gradual development of robot inventory, but also for the integration of units into existing storage systems little by little,” he says. “It’s conceivable that in the future there might even be an alternative service model where only the service actually provided by the robots is paid for, and investment costs can be avoided."
Our intelligent logistics robots can be practically implemented in any industry and in businesses of all sizes. We believe we have the potential to become a global market leader with our solution.