16 December 2022

Why There’s No Robot Vending Machine

To robotics rookies, it may seem like solutions are available straight out of the catalog. While this may be the case for the rare operation with the most standard of needs, the reality is that most solutions require customization to properly address the issues being faced. From the type of packaging being handled to the need for integration with other technologies, a level of personalization is almost always inevitable. 

The most effective robots don’t subscribe to a cookie-cutter model. To understand just how key customizability is, let’s examine some variables that inspire solution particularization and the resulting adaptations.

Palletizing Robots

With manual palletization being one of the most painstaking parts of a logistics operation, a state-of-art palletizing solution may literally be worth its weight in gold. Surely stacking boxes seems simple enough, but is it really? If you answered “no” please continue reading. 

Quite often, our DoraPalletizer robot solutions include some degree of sortation logic. Take, for example, an inbound operation where cases are palletized upon removal from a shipping container. If the container has multiple SKUs and the necessary operation includes building single SKU pallets, the robotic palletizing solution requires one or more barcode scanners to determine which SKUs belong on which pallets. To build this type of system correctly, we’d need to know a bit about the type of barcodes included on the cases. What size are the barcodes? How many case sides have printed barcodes? Is there a consistent location on the side where they are printed? The answers to these questions alone speak to a level of customization for the barcode scanning components of a robotic palletizer. And that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

Now consider an outbound palletizing robot that builds mixed SKU pallets. How do the SKUs reach the robot? By one or more conveyors? By one or more single SKU pallets placed within reach of the industrial robotic arm? What material are the SKU boxes? How large? How small? The heaviest? The lightest? The answers may inform the type of end-of-arm tool that’s required, and will certainly inform the design of the robot cell. 

A mixed SKU palletizing solution has many other variables to be considered too. What is the size of the target pallet? What is the maximum height of the target pallet? Should the pallet build allow for overhang? As you can imagine, there are a considerable number of questions. The collective responses indicate the degree of customization required.

Sortation Robots 

Sorting operations vary substantially from one operation to the next. The design of any given DoraSorter robot cell is dependent on a great many factors. Some factors are straightforward, such as the number of discrete destinations, the type of containers, the size of containers and the required throughput.

Robotics sortation configuration begins with the end in mind. Some DoraSorters deliver items into totes. Others into postal bags. Sometimes we sort to a cabinet or putwall, and other times we sort to large gaylord containers. See for yourself.

Here are three examples of different versions of DoraSorter solutions. One utilizes a series of racks to hold 100 totes. Another uses a custom-fabricated rack system that maximizes vertical space and delivers to 80 large postal bags. In the case of sorting to 60” tall gaylord containers, the DoraSorter quickly delivers relatively light parcels to as many as 20 destinations, using an intelligent sort map to reach a processing speed of 1000+ units per hour. 

To understand the unique factors of each DoraSorter system, simply consider what constitutes the “completeness” or “fullness” of an individual destination – a state that is defined differently according to an operation’s needs. Such a state may be a measurement based on volumetrics, powered by our vision and sensor technology. Another solution may employ a different metric to determine fullness, whereby data from a warehouse management system (WMS) indicates when it’s time for a container to move downstream. It could be that a set number of items have been placed or when a weight requirement is met. It can even be a temporal metric, where at a certain time, shipments need to go out, and as such, containers are deemed to be full or complete. 

Induction Robots

For operations that handle a sizable influx of goods and parcels, a high speed induction robot can save hours and countless headaches. While induction may seem like a straightforward solution with limited variety, “the devil is in the details.”

Induction robots are typically a pick-and-place system that creates singulated product flow to the next process downstream. System integration is a key component. One example is a small parcel induction process that places singulated items on a conveyor belt where the item is then sorted. If the downstream system employs a multi-sided scan tunnel, the requirement may simply be to pick and place. However, if the downstream scanning process relies on a top down scanner, the induction process employed must be one that only inducts parcels that have barcodes facing up.

In some cases, the DoraInductor will scan an item prior to inducting it, and then has the capability to pass barcode information to the WMS for proper handling in the next process. At Dorabot, we sometimes design solutions that employ a Dorainductor to feed a DoraSorter. When barcode scanning happens within the induction process, the information is then passed to DoraSorter, indicating the sort location at the time of induction.

Mobile Robots

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) offer an unlimited number of configurations and customizations. Far from “set it and forget it” AMRs are now increasingly integrated with automated and human-driven processes alike. 

Take for example, a robotic palletizer that builds single SKU pallets in an inbound container process. The ability for an AMR to remove a completed pallet and deliver it to a storage staging area is a time-saver for sure. Combine this process with another AMR that replenishes the system with an empty pallet at the target position, and you’ve got some next-level efficiency.

A similar scenario can be played out for sortation solutions. Imagine the benefits of having a full tote retrieved by an AMR and taken to a packing station as part of an order fulfillment process. Thanks to a breed of AMRs that can carry and buffer multiple totes simultaneously, the totes-swapping process is more efficient than ever. 

All in all, the concept of straight-from-the-box plug-and-play robots won’t cut it for most operations. When it comes to robotic solutions that tackle real world challenges, custom configuration is best not to be considered as a requirement for corner cases, but rather as a solution norm.

How about a robotic solution that fits your unique challenges? Let’s discuss.