Date Posted 8/21/20, 1:16 PM

Ecommerce continues to be an essential component of the retail landscape, and rates of online shopping are only expected to increase. Online spending represented 16% of total retail sales in the U.S. in 2019. Consumers spent $601.75 billion online—a 14.9% jump from the previous year.

Of course, the only way for eCommerce to function as an industry is for fulfillment centers to operate effectively. Managing the infrastructure of the global eCommerce market is a large network of facilities, professionals, and machines. Now, autonomous robots and automated material handling systems are bringing new efficiencies into the mix.

Most autonomous systems are designed to take over the redundant and hazardous tasks that have traditionally been delegated to human employees.

Here are 5 ways autonomous robots are helping eCommerce fulfillment and distribution centers meet increasing demands.

Material Handling

Material handling (MH) robots generally include an arm tool (sometimes called a “gripper”) and may be fixed in place or mobile. They can also be equipped with hot metal detectors in mill environments. They are especially useful in warehouses and factories that deal with hazardous materials, as they eliminate the need for a human to interact with the object being moved or sorted.

Many MH robots are autonomous, containing technologies for conveyor tracking and collision detection. They can interface with other material handling applications, such as conveyor tracking solutions and collision detection systems, which are important safety features in warehouse overhead crane and monorail systems.

Transportation and Delivery

Autonomous transportation robots can use 2D and 3D LiDAR sensors to navigate across warehouse and fulfillment center floors. These types of systems are already deployed in warehouses around the world, enabling large quantities of goods to be transported from one section of a warehouse to another without the need for humans to intervene.

The next generation of autonomous robots will incorporate LiDAR technology to facilitate autonomous deliveries outside the warehouse, and even in dense urban environments. We can already see live examples of this technology in autonomous flying drones. This would eliminate the need for last-mile shipping expenses, reducing costs dramatically for eCommerce companies.

Picking and Sorting

Picking and sorting goods are two of the most labor-intensive activities in fulfillment warehouses. Humans that occupy these roles tend to walk several miles a day fulfilling their duties.

Autonomous picking robots, either free-roaming, attached to an overhead monorail system, or as part of a conveyor solution, can assist in the picking and sorting of goods, so humans don’t have to. These systems can be linked to 2D cameras and 3D sensors or equipped with a simple scanning tool to recognize objects and sort them in their correct locations. They can also be deployed to navigate through a wide range of sorted items, identifying goods that are meant to be shipped and delivered for fulfillment.

Heavy Lifting

Autonomous heavy lifting robots represent the next evolution of the conventional forklift. Equipped with the latest safety laser scanning technologies to gain a 360-degree view of their surroundings, these systems can move safely and steadily across a warehouse floor.

Today’s heavy lifting robots can lift weights of up to thousands of pounds. They are ideal in industrial fulfillment centers, where large quantities of goods must be moved and sorted safely and efficiently.

Automated Packing

Packaging automation represents the end of the automated production line, right before an eCommerce purchase is shipped to the buyer. These types of autonomous systems often include a robotic arm and are equipped with sensors, lasers, and cameras to determine minute size specifications. They can pack goods much faster than humans and help to offset the physical risks of the packing job, which is often strenuous.

Packing robots are also equipped with robotic case erectors (RCEs), sailors, and other tools to help in the process of boxing goods. They use specialized software to navigate, ensuring they are nimble enough to handle even delicate items. In the food industry, these types of robots are even packaging fragile food products like eggs.

Equip Your eCommerce Fulfillment Robots with High-Quality Smart Sensors

Hokuyo-USA creates compact sensors designed to fit in a myriad of robotics applications. Our sensors are applicable in numerous industries, including manufacturing, security, and eCommerce fulfillment.

All our solutions are equipped with smart sensing technology. They are compact, so they can be integrated into platforms of almost any size. Whether you need a safety laser scanner for your warehouse equipment or a LiDAR sensor capable of spatial recognition for your drone, our innovative solutions can help bring your robots to life.