Service robots are rapidly changing the world of logistics. Companies are seeking for flexibility, cost effectiveness and productivity. Robots and mobile platforms are taking over repetitive and damaging routine tasks and thus support the workers. AUTOMATICA, held in Munich from June 21 to 24, shows the latest trends and applications in professional service robotics for logistics and mobile platforms.
Mobile transport systems have proven their value in different applications from the factory floor to hospitals, nursing facilities, restaurants and hotels. Accordingly, the demand for them is great. According to IFR, service robotics suppliers expect sales of 16,000 mobile and flexible multipurpose platforms in the period 2015–2018. At the same time, sales of logistics systems are expected to increase by 14,500 units, of which approx. 13,300 concern automated guided vehicle systems (AGV).
Transport systems for more efficiency on the factory floor
Mobile transport systems are ideally suited for logistics in manufacturing environments. When a transporter does not have to move excessively heavy loads, the small Adept transporter is ideal. It replenishes stocks, moves flow racks, transports unfinished products between the individual work steps and transports finished goods to the warehouse. Using its autonomous navigation, it finds its own path and thanks to its vertical laser sensors, it detects people and other objects for obstacle avoidance. The automation of the process eliminates human errors, optimizes and accelerates workflows, and ensures that processes run stable and reliable. As a result, costs can be reduced.
Service robots are also reliable helpers in handling heavy or bulky components. The mobile manipulator from Neobotix is a good example. It is being tested at Audi AG in production preparation. It handles the growing number of different components without any effort, reduces the error rate in production, and consequently contributes significantly to cost optimization.
New applications in the service sector
Mobile transport systems are real all-rounders. Service providers are increasingly benefiting from them, e.g. in inventory management, handled, among others, by Carry Pick from Swisslog. Mobile robots transport entire shelves to workstations for picking products. At the same time, returns can be stored. Where employees once had to walk several miles a day, today robots increase productivity and provide companies with the basis to achieve sustainable growth. This solution is running successfully at DB Schenker in Sweden and at BLG Logistics, where it was awarded the German Logistics Prize 2015. At AUTOMATICA 2016, Swisslog and KUKA will present the shuttle system CyclonCarrier as well as additional robotics innovations.
Service robots are also providing valuable services in department stores. One example of this is Stockbot from PAL ROBOTICS. Thanks to RFID technology, it takes care of inventory automatically every night, detecting and listing the items and their spatial location while running through the corridors. Consequently, there are no out-of-stock situations or misplaced products, both reasons for 70 percent of losts in sales.
Outlook for the future
The rapid development of mobile robots demonstrates the great potential inherent in this technology. The key to success is the development of its navigation technology. Modern sensor technology provides the logistics helpers with more autonomy, opening up new fields of application. This is an important prerequisite for a safe use, especially in public areas. In addition, the importance of cloud- and web-based systems is growing. The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA) has enhanced its software for flexible autonomous navigation by «cloud navigation». Using this, mobile systems send local sensor data to a server in the cloud. It evaluates the data and enables localization and efficient path planning. Time and expenses are reduced as a result.
The exhibition area Professional Service Robotics and the AUTOMATICA Forum at the leading trade fair in Munich will take a look at current and future developments.