Robotic Truck Loading is the Future of Shipping Dock Automation | The Material Handling Blog

Robotic Truck Loading is the Future of Shipping Dock Automation

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Automation has reached almost every corner of modern warehouses, but one area often still lacks efficiency—shipping and receiving docks. In facilities that require the loading and unloading of cases, many times an employee is required to manually lift and handle each one. This requires the employee to spend most of his or her day completing a strenuous, repetitive task in an oftentimes dark, cramped space. Add in the effects of hot or cold temperatures, and the shipping and receiving docks can be an unpleasant work environment.

For the reasons mentioned above, it can be hard for companies to retain employees, and a constant revolving door of labor combined with a limited labor market is especially challenging. This is the primary reason many companies are looking to automation to assist with truck loading and unloading.

Benefits of Automated Truck Loading and Unloading

Robotic Truck Loading and Unloading System
  1. Ergonomics – Repetitive motion injuries are a leading cause of worker compensation claims. By automating your truck loading and unloading process, you can reduce labor costs by preventing these injuries. Automating strenuous, uncomfortable tasks also reduces turnover and allows you to move associates to more important areas of your operation.
  2. Productivity – Automating your truck loading and unloading greatly improves your productivity rates. Robotic systems provide consistent throughput, never tire, and never need a break; one system can cover multiple shifts. A robotic truck loading system also offers high reliability, incredible accuracy and precision, as well as minimal maintenance requirements.
  3. Freight Costs – Another huge benefit of automated truck loading is ensuring your get the most efficient space utilization within every vehicle. Freight costs continue to rise and with increasing regulations on driver hours, it’s critical to fully use the cubic space within every truck and trailer. With automated truck loading—using advanced vision guidance—you can ensure boxes and containers are stacked efficiently from floor to ceiling, saving you money on freight costs.

ULTRA: Automated Robotic Truck Loading and Unloading

Robotic truck loading

Whether you are in search of improved ergonomics and productivity or reduced freight and labor costs, automating your truck loading and unloading processes is an excellent solution. Until now there had not been much success in bringing advanced automation to shipping and receiving docks, but ULTRA, our mobile robotic truck loader and unloader is engineered specifically for this challenge.

What is ULTRA

ULTRA combines robotic articulating conveyors, custom end of arm tool, and a vision system to quickly handle cases inside a shipping truck. This eliminates the need for a person to work inside a dark, cramped trailer, improving overall ergonomics and workplace safety.

Moving at a rate of about 20 cases per minute, ULTRA has the maneuverability to reach a full wall of cases, handling each one as needed. The unit features a vision system used for localizing individual cases for picking. It is also a PLd Cat 3 safety system, which includes e-stop circuits on all motors and wheels as well as safety scanners to slow down or stop the machine when a person enters the envelope.

The robotic arm has a payload of more than 55 pounds and is designed to handle various case heights within a single trailer. If needed, the end of arm tool can be retrofitted to handle unique product sizes or shapes. The robot uses compressed air to generate vacuum to pick product and electricity to move in and out of the trailer as well as between shipping docks.

How Does ULTRA Work

To unload a truck, the ULTRA robot drives into the trailer using navigation sensors. A telescoping conveyor attached to the back of the ULTRA robot follows it in and out of the trailer. Once in the truck, the robotic end of arm tool individually picks each case using a suction cup gripper which then shifts back pulling cartons onto the robotic articulating conveyor. Product moves off the unit and onto an extendable conveyor, where it can be transferred into your facility. When needed, the process is reversed, and ULTRA quickly and accurately stocks an outbound trailer.

Downstream from the robot, dimensioning sensors, barcode readers, weighing scales, label printers, and other key systems can be integrating with ULTRA to further maximize operations efficiencies. Similarly, one can employ other automation systems such as sortation conveyors or palletizing robots to direct or handle cases as needed.

The ULTRA automated truck unloader and loader offers improved ergonomics and productivity, while reducing labor and freight costs. Contact our team to learn more about ULTRA and optimizing your shipping and receiving operations..

Joe Zoghzoghy
Joe Zoghzoghy is the Mobile Robotics Manager at Bastian Solutions' Dallas, TX, R&D office. His team of engineers design and manufacture advanced mobile robotic systems for distribution and manufacturing operations. Joe earned his doctorate in robotics and mechanical engineering as well as his master's degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.

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