As factories come back on line and essential businesses that never went off line continue to face daily challenges of operating amidst a global pandemic, attention falls squarely on the health and safety of workers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists distance between workers and contact with contaminated surfaces as distinct factors that impact workers' risk for exposure to the novel coronavirus.
Focusing on COVID-19 risks in the workplace has shed new light on the benefits of automation, especially robots. These coworkers are innately immune to biological viruses. In fact, they kill them. Robots have already proved their mettle as mobilized germ zappers decontaminating hospitals and airports, robot temperature screeners and food delivery bots for quarantined people. We’ll explore how robot manufacturers and integrators are using robotics to reinforce social distancing, reduce contact points and provide remote support for manufacturing.
Users don’t typically go looking for palletizing systems as a primary method for social distancing, but it ends up being a nice piggyback benefit. Bastian Solutions, a Toyota Advanced Logistics company, is a global material handling and robotic systems integrator based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Matt Kohler, Sales Manager for Bastian Solutions’ robotics group, says they see more opportunities for palletizing and depalletizing, even for low-volume applications.
“Traditionally those have been accomplished manually, but if you have team lifts or heavier product that requires multiple people, robotic palletizers offer complete autonomy in a warehouse or manufacturing environment. There’s a lot of opportunities there, maybe not traditionally justifiable for labor savings or ergonomic concerns alone, but it now it provides a secondary benefit.”
Fewer Touchpoints with Robotic Bin Picking
In addition to social distancing, personal hygiene and wearing cloth face coverings, it’s important to minimize workers’ exposure to surfaces that can become potentially contaminated with the virus. That means reducing touchpoints. Ready to lend a hand in that endeavor are goods-to-robot systems. These advanced technologies use swarms of robotic shuttles to autonomously deliver goods to robotic arms for picking.
“We’re seeing a lot of demand and interest for robotic bin picking, which not only provides labor savings, but also eliminates some high touch surfaces,” says Bastian Solutions’ Kohler. “If you think about a bin that may be circulated 10 to 15 times a day to various picking ports, that’s additional touches that each person could have on that particular bin. It’s not necessarily the biggest driver, but there is an ancillary benefit to having a robotic system doing bin picking as opposed to a human.”
Read the full article on RIA's Robotics Online or Plant Engineering.