Humans And Robots Collaborate In Today’s Warehouses

Rosina Geiger

As the economy picks up, retails sales grow, and more customers demand fast home delivery, warehouses face more demand than ever before. This past Christmas season (2017), for example, Amazon reported nearly doubling its warehouse workforce – adding 120,000 temporary jobs in the United States alone to meet seasonal demand spikes.

For warehouse operators, whatever can be done to help streamline processes and improve productivity is a welcome development. On this count, Fetch Robotics is helping out with highly collaborative warehouse robots that work with humans without posing them any danger. These robots can calculate the fastest route from point A to B – and then get there without breaking a sweat. This frees up people for more complex warehouse business processes that require intuitive thought and human intelligence. It also saves time and money while increasing employee productivity and improving workplace quality of life for the employee as well.

Robots do the running

One of Fetch Robotics’ customers is RK Logistics Group – a leading third-party logistics provider (3PL) and a long-time SAP customer that uses SAP Extended Warehouse Management (SAP EWM) to streamline and optimize operations.

To streamline operations even further, RK incorporated Fetch Robotics robots into operations in the summer of 2016. Today robots do the running, while workers remain in their consolidation areas for picking duties.

“Robots don’t take jobs,” says Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics. “They take tasks.” With workers collecting items 6 times an hour – walking an average of 4 minutes to each consolidation area – each worker can save 24 minutes an hour by eliminating the walking.

Designed for interaction

The model for Fetch Robotics and RK is one of human/machine collaboration. While humans are needed for picking duties, robots can move goods around faster and more effectively. Using IoT technology, the robots find the most efficient route through the warehouse, and after delivering a full load, return to the designated point where their human colleagues continue to process orders and reload the robot for its next run.

Standing less than five feet high and weighing in under 100 pounds, they easily fit into small warehouse areas with their worker counterparts. To avoid accidents with people, forklifts, and carts, the robots also travel at reasonable speeds of (about) 3.5 miles an hour – or 1.5 meters per second. When an obstacle appears in the way, embedded sensors detect the environment in an instant and pause for a moment. If the obstacle is not cleared soon, the bot charts a new course using its internal map of the warehouse footprint.

To learn more about how SAP is working with startups, get in touch with the SAP Startup Accelerator for Digital Supply Chain and SAP.iO.

Rosina Geiger

About Rosina Geiger

Rosina Geiger is the Director of Startup Engagement at SAP. She has worked at the Hasso Plattner Institute before joining SAP in 2016 to establish the SAP Startup Accelerator for Digital Supply Chain in Berlin and Palo Alto.