The robots are coming

Robotic materials handling technology is changing the way we move products in the plant and the distribution center.

<p>The increasing demand to build mixed case pallets is one of the key drivers for stationary robotic materials handling.</p>

The increasing demand to build mixed case pallets is one of the key drivers for stationary robotic materials handling.

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Back at ProMat 2007, small crowds gathered around the booths of Kiva Systems, Seegrid and RMT Robotics even though all three had relatively inconspicuous booths. The crowds gathered because each supplier was demonstrating something new: small mobile units that ran around the limited floor space.

Although Kiva displayed an integrated picking solution that included portable storage units, most people didn’t quite know what to do with these gizmos.

They didn’t look like traditional robots since they didn’t have arms. But they were also smaller than a traditional automated guided vehicles (AGV) and used different guidance systems.

What they did have was pizzazz. The technology they previewed has since become known as mobile robotics: autonomous vehicles that can shuttle materials around a factory or distribution center. Of course, the materials handling industry is replete with cool technologies that never made it from the exhibition hall to the distribution center floor. Since then, however, the Kiva (781-221-4640) goods-to-person picking solution has found a home in a number of high-profile warehouses, including the Office Depot facility on this month’s cover (see page 20). In addition, Seegrid’s (877-733-4743) riderless vehicles are being used by a leading grocer to deliver pallets to the shipping dock so that pickers can remain in the aisle doing more valuable tasks. And, RMT’s (905-643-9700) technology is being used to deliver small quantities of parts to the line in lean, just-in-time manufacturing environments.

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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