Emerging Technologies: Mobile Robotics in Distribution Center Automation

Written By: Bill Bastian II

When you think about warehouse or distribution center automation, what equipment comes to mind–conveyor systems, conventional palletizers, or maybe sortation systems?  Although each is extremely useful in today’s warehouse and DC automation, the introduction of advanced mobile robotics will change the landscape of tomorrow’s industrial facilities.

With the convergence of enabling technologies–such as automated guided vehicles (AGV’s), high speed, 6-axis robotic arms, vision systems, and 3 dimensional data models–mobile robotics will play a vital role in improving manual labor processes, while also improving quality and increasing throughput.

Improving Manual Processes

Typical manual processes such as receiving, picking, packing, and shipping are tough, particularly when heavy or hazardous products are involved.  Add in less than ideal working conditions, such as extremely hot or cold climate, and these manual processes become even tougher. Unfortunately, this often leads to employee turnover and inconsistent fulfillment both in quality and on-time delivery.

Meeting Demand

Another factor increasing the need for mobile robotics is the rise in e-fulfillment orders. With order volumes for these products on the rise, relative to conventional orders, there is a growing need for flexible and reliable material handling solutions. The latest advances in mobile robotics are allowing distributors to fulfill this need without putting strain on their workers or other resources.

The Latest Innovations in Mobile Robotics Technology:

Robotic Loading and Unloading of Containers

Robotic Loading and Unloading of Containers

Kiva Systems Mobile Robots

Kiva Systems Mobile Robots

Gantry Robotic Pick Modules Rendering

Gantry Robotic Pick Modules

Picking Robot and Dual Armed Robot

Order Picking Delta Robot and High Speed Dual Arm Motoman

Safety Concerns

The increasing use of robotics in the industrial sector often creates some safety concerns for employers and workers when these robots interact closely with humans without physical barriers or safety fencing. To combat these concerns, The National Institute of Standards and Technology is currently working on merging elements of safety standards for AGV’s with close-proximity robots. So as the new world of mobile robotics begins to emerge, so are the safety standards associated with them.


With advances in the dexterity of End of Arm Tooling (a.k.a. the “hands” of the robots) as well as the vision sensors, robots will be able to take on more and more of the tough jobs within the industrial environment.  In the next 10 years, we will see an increase in mobile robotic applications within distribution centers helping to improve productivity, accuracy, and overall throughput of order fulfillment.

Do you agree or disagree? What are your opinions about the future of mobile robotics? Please leave your comments below.

I began my career at Bastian Solutions back in 1987. As an engineer and entrepreneur, I have always enjoyed the growth of our family-based business. With over 26 years of experience in the industry, I have been involved with most all material handling technologies: robotics, AS/RS, sortation, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), Warehouse Control Systems (WCS), RFID, Pick to Light, Pick to Display, etc. I have also worked in most vertical industries. What I like most about my job is working with the great team at Bastian Solutions and creating innovative new products and services. As CEO of Bastian Solutions, it is my responsibility to provide the vision on where the company should go in the future, so we provide value to our customers and a great working environment for our employees.

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  1. Bill,

    You are correct about multi-axis robot arms and end of arm tools being used in distribution applications.

    Your followers can follow this link to see an example of a multi axis robot being used with a LayerPicker to automatically depalletize pallets of beverage products to replenish an automated order fulfillment module http://www.layerpicker.com/Descramble.html

    Logistics Connections

  2. Very interesting information! Thanks for the help!

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