New charging technologies in warehouse automation

New charging technologies in warehouse automation

Automation is radically transforming warehouse operations. According to a survey by Robotics business reviewAutomated warehouses are 76% more likely to increase inventory accuracy by 99% or more and 40% more likely to ship within one day of placing your order.

As manufacturers begin to explore the transition from manual to automated warehouses, they first need to understand where they are and where they want to go. There are various levels of automation, ranging from different semi-automatic applications to fully automated systems.

Most warehouses today operate with a hybrid model to lighten the employee workload. Additionally, hybrid automation systems improve and optimize warehouse operations to help meet growing demand faster.

Applied automation

As manufacturers start adding standalone technology to their warehouse, one of the first processes to be supported by automation is the picking process. The withdrawal process for line items is time-consuming and labor-intensive. Pick-by-voice and pick-by-light speed up the picking process by eliminating the need for practical sorting. This allows warehouses to grow faster and scale easily without the need for additional manpower.

Due to the increased speed and capacity of operation, autonomous solutions are becoming more and more important in warehouses. This is especially important in the cold food storage space, where people prefer to let the machines run in colder temperatures and conditions. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) can take a shelf from cold storage to a human, improving the overall work environment for employees. AGVs and mobile robots use advanced navigation systems and artificial intelligence to improve productivity.

Enabling opportunistic reloading

Electrification of equipment such as forklifts has been widely adopted in the warehouse space. The benefits of electrification are numerous, from reducing noise pollution and carbon emissions to saving energy and costs. However, electrification doesn’t come without unique challenges.

A major remaining problem of electric technology is downtime charging. Traditional lead-acid battery technology requires a lot of time, additional warehouse space and sometimes battery replacements, reducing overall productivity. However, the latest lithium-ion battery technology reduces the city center by charging the batteries without having to completely replace them – the batteries survive many charge cycles.

Instead of waiting hours to charge a battery, lithium-ion technology provides a constant supply of currents and just the right amount of voltage for fast-charging capability. With opportunistic charging, the battery recharges whenever possible, including very short breaks when workers have coffee. This leads to smaller batteries, less weight as a final cost and a better overall profitability of the machines.

However, new battery technologies and frequent charging pose unique challenges that lead to significant changes in the design and specification of the electric powertrain. These effects include the need for sophisticated battery management systems, the demand for more charging power, and a greater number of charge cycles for the charging infrastructure (e.g. charging connector mating). At the same time, operators want to limit the manual labor involved in charging operations, which leads to the obligation to autonomously charge AGVs and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) at docking stations.

Reliable and compact charging and battery solutions, as well as more efficient drive technology, are prime targets for electrical technology in the warehouse. In order to further improve overall production and warehouse operations efficiency, these core objectives must be addressed.

Meet expectations

As the world continues to confront the ongoing effects of COVID-19, one trend has become clear: Consumers prefer to shop online. Ecommerce and online spending have skyrocketed, nearly doubling between 2019 and 2020. This trend is unlikely to go away.

Additionally, as consumers have become accustomed to ordering groceries and basic necessities from their homes, the expectation of receiving these products within days has become the norm. The demand for goods to be delivered quickly has never been higher.

Warehouse manufacturing and logistics are a labor-intensive industry, from physical picking of advertising items to handling food items that require cold storage. However, the warehouses responsible for producing and delivering these consumer expectations face severe labor shortages and high employee turnover rates.

Between the growing pressure to deliver goods faster and a dwindling pool of manpower to meet these demands, one solution becomes clear: The warehouse needs to move to more advanced automation to ease employee workloads. And he has to do it quickly.

Daniel Walldorf is a head of strategy and business development at TE Connectivity.

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