While warehouse automation doesn’t predominate Automation World coverage, as we focus more on automation in production operations, warehouse automation does play a vital role in the manufacturing industries by serving as a critical link in a supply chain. In fact, when interviewed for a recent supply chain feature both Andrew Robling, senior product manager at Epicor, and Jonathan Foster, principal consultant at Proxima, indicated automated improvements to warehouse processes as one of the primary areas where advances in supply chain management would occur in the future.
Swelling warehouse labor shortages are one of the most prominent reasons for their assessment. While the issue has been long gestating, it rapidly grew worse when the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many out of hands-on fields that require them to occupy crowded physical spaces. As a result, both autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and various wearable technologies have seen growing adoption in logistics operations due to their ability to take over human tasks entirely in some cases and enhance the productivity of human workers in others.
This operating reality is driving a strategic partnership between inVia Robotics, which provides AMRs through a robots-as-a-service (RaaS) model, and Rufus Labs, a company that supplies wearable technologies and accompanying analytics software. An important aspect of inVia’s RaaS model for warehouse use is that it allows end-users to be billed per item moved rather than by the number of robots deployed. According to the companies, the goal of the initiative is to provide warehouse operators with a suite of technologies that can be rapidly deployed and integrated for increased picking rates with existing labor while keeping upfront costs low.
InVia’s AMRs are able to autonomously retrieve items and bring them to stationary workers who are directed to scan the items and place them in an order bin by inVia’s PickMate software, which is run from Rufus Labs’ wearable devices. These wearables include ergonomic gloves for scanning items and wrist-mounted tablets to receive instructions and other information. PickMate then uses the same artificial intelligence-driven analytics employed by inVia’s AMRs to direct workers as to how inventory can most efficiently be picked and packed out, allowing intelligently optimized work processes to be followed even when the shape or arrangement of items that need to be picked are too complex or irregular for AMRs or other robots to handle. From here, all data gathered is fed back into inVia’s Logic and Rufus Labs’ WorkHero analytics software so that further opportunities for optimization can be identified.
"Optimizing humans and robots in the warehouse is key to future sustainability, increased productivity, and ensuring a safe environment for workers, said Gabe Grifoni, CEO and founder of Rufus Labs. “Rufus WorkHero already cuts pick time in half and provides added safety features to pickers. Our partnership with inVia will continue to improve throughput for our mutual customers, and allow for future innovations between humans and machines.”