How warehouse robots help parcel and distribution networks

By Tyler W. McCoy, Chief Engineer at JR Automation

Leverage advancements in warehouse automation – including advanced robotics – to create flexible and robust supply chains that meet growing customer demands. A radical change in consumer behavior accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic has exponentially widened the wide-scale adoption of e-commerce and online shopping. As consumers increasingly shop online for standard items like groceries and household supplies, this shift is likely to become permanent, creating a significant impact on warehouse operations and creating new opportunities. innovation.

So far, the first winners in this business environment have been early tech users such as Amazon and Ocado who have innovated with robotics and software to create more efficient and sustainable supply chains. However, there is room in this space for everyone who is ready to embrace warehouse automation and robotics. Those who do not participate in this breakthrough innovation are likely to fall behind.

Adapt to warehouse challenges with intelligent robotics

Traditionally, robotics has applied stationary and repeatable applications such as those in automotive assembly lines. Today, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are enabling breakthroughs in perception and complex decision-making in real time. This allows robotic technologies to operate efficiently in more complex and unstructured environments such as warehouses and distribution networks.

Due to the modularity and scalability inherent in robotic picking, sorting and palletizing systems, organizations of all sizes can reap the benefits of these innovations while making warehouse operations efficient, profitable and safe. The ability to add solutions with a high return on investment (ROI) coupled with manual processes makes them ideal candidates for investing in existing manual installations.

Hitachi warehouse robotics


Embracing Warehouse Automation Today

The rise of e-commerce has pushed existing parcel and distribution networks to their limits. Faced with a huge need for efficiency and increased capacity that warehouse automation can fill, a new generation of intelligent robotic solutions has started to take hold. The scalability of these solutions makes them ideal for a still predominantly manual industry, and they are a logical next step. For many businesses, the adoption of warehouse automation is lagging far behind or absent altogether. According to DHL research, 80% of warehouses remain manually operated.1 Another recent survey indicates that the biggest investments to date are in transportation (63%), while robotic palletizing and picking is still very low (15% and 8%, respectively).2

Large e-commerce companies know that agile and automated supply chains are essential to meet demand and stay ahead of the competition. To keep pace with these major players, smaller and emerging e-commerce companies need to take the right steps to automate their warehouse supply chains.

When every season is high season

Before the pandemic, e-commerce and logistics were geared towards peak season (early November to January). Distribution networks would ramp up for peak and then grapple with underutilized capacity for the remaining nine months. In 2020, the peak started in mid-March and has not slowed down. The challenge for many small businesses today is to innovate and grow in a cutting edge environment that never abates. Businesses no longer have the luxury of downtime to upgrade facilities to increase capacity and incorporate new technology.

E-commerce giants find it easier to integrate new technology organically because their technology stacks are already built. Small businesses must work to bridge this chasm. One of the advantages of advanced robotics is that it can be integrated into operations without taking a system or facility out of service. Robotics can be added bit by bit, in a modular fashion, without major disruption.

There is a significant need among both types of companies for a partner and an integrator capable of developing, producing and evolving solutions across the entire distribution network.

hitachi warehouse robotics


Integration expertise meets technology

Together, Hitachi and JR Automation (which was acquired by Hitachi in 2019) work with customers to co-create the products and robotics they need to solve vendor problems, then bring an entire team to scale up. . This is achievable for large companies as well as for small players in the industry.

Together, Hitachi and JR Automation bring deep cross-industry expertise in integrating fundamental robotic technologies into a variety of use cases, including e-commerce warehouse operations. JR Automation succeeds in executing hundreds of vision-based robotic solutions in the warehouse and logistics space. Vision-based solutions recognize and adapt to the high mix of materials to be handled and make real-time decisions on appropriate picking strategies.

By leveraging their scale, JR Automation and Hitachi have developed a separate high-volume deployment business and are now uniquely positioned to develop and refine initial system designs while deploying at scale. For one client, we deployed over 150 robotic solutions in a warehouse environment over two years.

Putting warehouse robotics at the service of businesses

The challenge for every business is to make these technologies work to meet the specific needs of the business. By combining JR Automation’s operational technology expertise with Hitachi’s core strengths in cloud infrastructure, data analytics and IT, we provide a digital thread that allows you to analyze your resource planning. enterprise (ERP) for your entire supply chain. With this analysis, you can accurately understand inventory, supply chain risks, and optimize warehouse operational technology to meet your needs.

Your starting point is where you are. You don’t need to have all the answers. We can craft the right problem statement and the best solution for you, so you can start your robotic journey early and define your best first moves. We help you create a holistic, customized solution that addresses your challenges and provides insight across your entire IT and warehousing infrastructure so you can make continuous improvements.

Hitachi warehouse robotics


Robust supply chains are critical infrastructures. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this clear. Every country must have a ready-to-use supply chain that meets daily needs, capable of responding quickly to any emergency. Hitachi’s goal as a technology provider and integrator is to contribute to the social well-being of the world by helping companies set up these types of supply chains so that they are well prepared to face any situation. Robotics technology is the future of warehouse and logistics automation supply chains. Now your business can be supply chain ready.

Learn more about Hitachi’s role in JR Automation and warehouse logistics and automation.

This post was created by Hitachi with Insider Studios.

1Warehouse automation: the rise of warehouse robots ”, Logistics IQ, 2019

2Bridget McCrea, “Annual Warehouse and Distribution Center Automation Survey: More Automation, Please”, Logistics Management, May 15, 2019

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