Warehouse automation is the key to meeting the increasingly stringent demands placed on shippers, but simply adding automation may not be enough. Fully automated warehouses may have some restrictions when it comes to flexibility and the ability to adjust on the fly. That’s why many robotics companies and warehouse software platforms are developing solutions to allow robots and humans to coexist.
Lucas Systems, which makes voice and warehouse optimization software for fulfillment and distribution centers, is partnering with Fetch Robotics to develop the next generation of smart warehouse solutions. Through the partnership, Lucas and Fetch will offer tailored solutions to orchestrate and optimize how warehouse workers interact in harmony with Fetch’s autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).
“The future environment of warehouses and distribution centers will be a mix of people, robots, machines and systems all working together. The precise orchestration of all the pieces will be key to achieving a competitive advantage in performance,” said Ken Ramoutar, chief marketing officer at Lucas Systems.
Lucas develops warehouse systems based on voice and AI technologies. Together with Fetch’s AMRs, the vision is for a cohesive system that allows humans to work alongside robots in warehouse operations. Customers will still be able to purchase the respective products separately, Ramoutar told Modern Shipper, but the partnership will enhance operations for warehouse operators.
“The partnership adds a major operational improvement element of the complete orchestration of the Fetch robots and the voice-directed worker technology and workflows working in harmony. This is a very useful approach as warehouses expand and add both workers and robots to do the work,” Ramoutar said.
According to the companies, robots will manage tasks best suited for machines and humans will work on higher-valued work. For instance, a worker could potentially avoid unnecessary walking by placing items into a tote on a Fetch AMR, directing the AMR to a conveyor system to unload, and then triggering another robot to move into place to continue picking.
“That intersection of how people and robots work together is a hugely important and often overlooked part of the warehouse automation equation, but it’s where a lot of the unseen value exists,” said Ramoutar.
Stefan Nusser, chief product officer at Fetch Robotics, told Modern Shipper building solutions for warehouse operations today also requires developing flexibility to meet future needs.
“We know that warehouses run vastly different operations, even within the same industry,” Nusser said. “The Fetch-Lucas solution is an off-the-shelf solution but has the flexibility to be tailored to fit the way warehouse operators want to run their business. This is an extremely important point as customers want solutions to fit their operations now and in the future.”
Lucas’ solutions have been used in over 400 warehouses around the world for 23 years, but the company continues to innovate, and Nusser said that is vital.
“It’s extremely important that both software and robotics providers recognize the modern-day warehouse environment will contain a mix of workers, robots, machines and other systems,” he said. “To maximize the benefits of this mix, such as maximizing throughput, improving order accuracy, efficiently flexing work assignments to fit seasonal variations, requires the orchestration and optimization of the whole ecosystem.”
Ramoutar noted that the concept of humans and robots working side by side is still evolving, and both companies are working with customers to ease that transition and ensure warehouse operators gain maximum benefit.
Nusser added that 99% of warehouse operations will likely never reach full automation, so the co-working model is the most likely scenario.
“Automation initiatives will continue in virtually all industries as operators continually seek to drive greater performance from their operations and compete on their fulfillment capabilities,” he said. “Some industries, such as manufacturing and retail, for example, are experiencing tremendous e-commerce growth pressure. Where there is e-commerce growth is a good example of where workers and robots together can outperform their competition.”