Sebastian Elmgren is head of business development & product marketing at Ericsson.
What sorts of sensing technologies have improved the effectiveness and reliability of picking systems and conveyance systems?
Sebastian Elmgren, head of business development & product marketing, Ericsson: Mainly smarter cameras and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors in combination with advancing computer-vision algorithms. This increase in software and data-driven implementations in turn puts a high demand on connectivity. When it comes to factory operations, picking may be one of the most important activities and consequently must be done accurately. Automated picking allows the movement of items within a warehouse while optimizing picking routes in real time and the operation as a whole. The digital transformation that we have observed over the past few years has streamlined warehouse operation across the board, including picking, packing and shipping. Investing in automation and digitalization enhances customer experience while ultimately lifting profits in the long run.
As warehouse distribution centers continue to grow larger, how are tracking and intelligence helping to keep up with customer demands?
Sebastian Elmgren, head of business development & product marketing, Ericsson: Shifts in the supply chain, customer demands and product range are putting high demands on optimizing every process in warehouse distribution centers. If you have insights into these processes, you are in a much better place to be agile and adopt the processes to these constantly shifting metrics. As these centers grow and become increasingly more intelligent, output continues to increase, which is the best scenario for the consumer and the producers working on the shop floor. Through the deployment of next-generation technology, we have observed an impressive 2.2 times improved output per employee compared to alternative sites without automation and Fourth-Industrial-Revolution (4IR) improvements. This alone can aid in productivity levels and meeting customer demand.
Additionally, warehouse management systems aid in a multitude of warehouse efficiencies, including managing inventory levels and enhancing order fulfilment. Managing inventory is quicker and simplified through this solution as warehouse workers on the shop floor and distributors alike can track specific products and their locations at all times, and when these products are running low. This improves picking accuracy so that orders are correct and demand is satisfied.
Tracking and intelligence support warehouse management through an array of efficiencies as we observe intelligent growth at these sites. These solutions can prevent production delays, resolve inventory and accuracy issues, and identify mistakes and mitigate them before they can occur. Over time distribution centers can keep up with growing demand and ultimately increase customer satisfaction.
Which technologies have allowed warehouses to increase throughput rates while expanding product ranges and still maintaining accurate order fulfillment?
Sebastian Elmgren, head of business development & product marketing, Ericsson: While the pandemic disrupted the supply chain in many industries, the competition continued to grow as manufacturers sought to differentiate themselves and address increased market demand through an array of technologies.
Augmented reality (AR) for remote support can streamline entire operations. Maintenance in factories is typically difficult due to the lack of on-site expertise. AR support decreases labor, vendor costs and travel and, it increases equipment uptime. AR headsets used by maintenance teams can connect to central or vendor support teams and allow for real-time system-generated step-by-step guidance on the shop floor without even having to fly in specialists to be physically present. Additionally, they can be utilized for onboarding and training factory workers remotely.
Material tracking and visualization within a factory can be difficult. Smart devices can provide real-time alerts to service providers so that immediate action can be taken enabling faster response times. Through an asset-tracking solution, factory floor sensors can easily track critical assets and their locations in addition to the condition they’re in. This solution can also provide production insights through tracking production progress in real time, while providing real-time visibility of finished goods on the production floor and maintaining accurate order fulfillment and expanding product range.
The use of cobots, or collaborative robots, streamlines a flexible measurement system while reducing time dedicated to inspection tasks. With customers expecting no defects to come out of smart manufacturing, manufacturers need to inspect every product that is created to maintain quality. Cobots allow factories to achieve this by speeding up the inspection process while enhancing the quality of the goods and ultimately improving customer satisfaction.
Digital twins are also a massive asset in manufacturing through their ability to provide valuable insights for processes within the factory while giving manufacturers full control over these processes to implement changes, often in real time.
Because of the warehouse’s physical nature, how much of the facility’s hardware can be replaced with software in order to facilitate easier upgrades, expansions and reconfigurations?
Sebastian Elmgren, head of business development & product marketing, Ericsson: Hardware will remain but become less expensive as it becomes less intelligent and connected, while software and controls continue to grow in the data center or cloud. This additionally increases the need for connectivity.
Software will make the operations more flexible, making it easier to scale up or down operations by adding or removing hardware.
Hardware and software have a symbiotic relationship and are integral parts of efficient warehouse solutions. Software is continually improving and can be considered a long-term investment when implemented appropriately while maximizing the solution as it works for you. Upgrading software is critical to operations as new solutions become sought after and manufacturing continues to evolve making warehouse operations increasingly more efficient. Reliability issues ensue when software upgrades are not kept up with. While upgrades can be challenging, they are critical to warehouse processes as hardware ages affecting the functionality of operations. Through 5G capabilities, upgrading and deploying new software can be cheaper and easier to deploy.
How have automated storage and retrieval systems' roles changed over the past 10 years?
Sebastian Elmgren, head of business development & product marketing, Ericsson: Companies have become more dependent on their automated material handling system for just-in-time deliveries. This has increased the demand for reliability.
Automated storage and retrieval systems have become more integrated with existing processes over the past 10 years and are overall more critical for the overall operation of a company.
We have observed significant modernization of distribution operations over the past decade and will only continue to see rapid advancements in the coming years.
Historically, automated storage and retrieval systems have been costly and not largely leveraged. Ecommerce has been the driver for warehouse automation over the past 10 years as the evolution of the Internet and tech hardware have eclipsed traditional shopping in many ways. Ecommerce continues to grow as the pandemic surges on, as well.
Currently, we are experiencing massive growth in automation due to higher customer expectations and increased demand for customization. As we have seen a substantial increase in manufacturing sites adopting increased automated processes, there is less room for handling errors and product defects. Automated storage and retrieval systems are essential to the automated workflow and will become more widely adopted in the future.
Will autonomous mobile robots replace automated guided vehicles altogether, or is there room for both, based on the application or complementary functions?
Sebastian Elmgren, head of business development & product marketing, Ericsson: When we think about the factory of the future, we likely envision robots being deployed to support operations. At this time, we have room for multiple solutions to work simultaneously together and complement each other when striving for efficient production. I think it depends on the business case of the center and the cost.
Both autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) provide separate but very important functions. Mobile robots not only allow for increased flexibility relying on sensors and cameras, but also increase safety, enabling them to understand their working environment in a more consistent way than human workers. They can eliminate up to 30% of typical scrap, drastically increasing the bottom line while improving the environment. Alternatively, guided vehicles significantly improve cost efficiencies, increase workplace safety while also improving inventory accuracy and efficiency.
The main difference between an AGV and an AMR is the technology. As it becomes more available and price-competitive, these two systems become less discernible and eventually the same. If both become comparable in price and functionality, it’s important to pick which one fulfills your needs the most.
How will ANSI/RIA R15.08 affect robotic solutions in warehouse environments?
Sebastian Elmgren, head of business development & product marketing, Ericsson: Standardizations maximize compatibility, interoperability, safety, repeatability and quality. Additionally, it enables smoother integrations and scalability.
Given the extraordinary percentage of manual operation in most distribution centers, will the 24/7 fully autonomous warehouse order-fulfillment center ever become commonplace?
Sebastian Elmgren, head of business development & product marketing, Ericsson: Full automation creates an opportunity for a safer and more efficient workplace. With the rapid adoption of automation, it is possible that an extraordinary percentage of manual operations could be fully automated in the next decade as the benefits of full automation are realized. According to our research, most manufacturing enterprises will be at least 80% automated within the next 10 years, with the majority expecting to implement tools enabled with information and communications technology (ICT) within the next five years. Artificial-intelligence (AI) software, video recognition, augmented and virtual reality, automated guided vehicles and exoskeletons are expected to become commonplace.
Many warehouse operations that remain manually operated are resistant to the idea of a 24/7 fully autonomous warehouse order-fulfillment center. The pushback can be attributed to the fact that many believe automation and digitalization will eliminate jobs. However, this is not the case as automation and digitalization can create jobs that require higher skillets and training as we move away from the stigma of manufacturing being dull, dirty and dangerous work. What we can expect to observe is blue-collar jobs transforming into white-collar jobs as there is a shift of low-skilled manual jobs within production sites evolving into more process and surveillance-oriented jobs.