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When it comes to warehousing equipment, it is no longer the previous "forklift + pallet + conveyor belt". In 2009, the concept of "smart logistics" was proposed, and the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing and other technologies "drag" the traditional logistics industry into the expressway of technology.
It is learned that the smart logistics market need exceeded 200 billion yuan in 2016, and it is expected that by 2025, the smart logistics market need will exceed one trillion yuan. In this context, smart logistics warehousing equipment has been more and more widely used, and warehouses have become "busy". Forklifts, manipulators, three-dimensional shelves, AGVs, AMRs, and storage drones have been popular and commonly used.
In order to make a distinction, we roughly classify the logistics hardware equipment into the basic skeletons of intelligent storage composed of three-dimensional shelves, conveyor belt systems, high-speed sorting systems, etc., and various automation equipment system composed of AGV, AMR, forklifts, manipulators, storage drones, etc.
Distinguished by height, the racks of less than 5m, 5-15m, and more than 15m are respectively called low, medium, and high rack. In 1963, the United States invented automated three-dimensional warehouse. In mid 1960s, Japan started to build high bay warehouse. In 1980, China first automated three-dimensional warehouse was put into operation, which was developed and manufactured by Beijing Materials Handling Research Institute and was built up to 15 meters high at that time.
In the early stage, the racks were mainly used in scenarios such as manufacturing industry and sea ports, where the goods are mostly big. In order to save warehouse space and reduce cost, racks were designed to be tall, reaching up to the roof of warehouse. Later with the development of e-commerce, racks height has changed a lot.
From 2000 to 2009, e-commerce gradually entered into a stable sustainable development period, during which Taobao.com was created in 2003. As most of e-commerce and retail warehousing goods are small items, the high racks in the past where goods were placed at high positions, can not meet the “in and out” speed of such warehouses. Thus, rack height has dropped below 5 meters, to adapt to the booming orders of e-commerce platforms.
Rack is one of the fundamental and essential facilities in warehouse. In addition to the shelves, conveyor and high speed sorting system also play an important role in warehouse.
Conveyors can be classified into the type with or without gravity assistance. According to different rolling elements, gravity conveyors can be classified into skate wheel conveyor, roller conveyor, ball roller conveyor the three types. Power conveyors are generally driven by electric motor, are classified into roller conveyor, belt sorter, chain conveyor, etc. according to different drive mediums.
It should be noted that though conveyor can transport large items, it has many problems such as the difficult change of transportation route, large footprint, etc.
High speed sorting system is generally composed of control device, sortation device, conveyor device and sorting crossing. Sorting signal is identified, received and processed through control device. The items on main conveyor belt are automatically classified. Then according to sorting order sent from control device, sortation device will change the delivery direction of items on conveyor device.
It's worth mentioning that there are variety of sortation devices. Generally there are pusher sorter, pop-up sorter, tilt sorter, etc.Just open a video about automatic sorter, you will see through the gentle stirring by the floating block on conveyor belt, the items on main conveyor belt quickly slide to next sorting line.
According to relevant statistics, manual sorting efficiency is only about 150pcs per hour, and the labor intensity for completely manual sorting is extremely high. However, automatic sorting system can run without stop for more than 100 hours, and the sorting efficiency of packed items is about 7000pcs per hour. The improvement of efficiency and reduction of labor cost are self-evident.
AGV robot can move along prescribed guidance route with electromagnetic or optical automatic guidance device equipped, which are transportation vehicles with safety protection and various transfer and loading functions. Its rise originates from Kiva robot.
In 2003, the Kiva robot started to use 2D code navigation technology. In 2012, Kiva was acquired by Amazon for 775 million US dollars. After that, the technology more than 10 years ago from now began to be spread in China, and has become the most popular navigation method of AGV nowadays.
AGV features wheeled moving, similar to rail transportation. Although AGV has some pain points such as high price now, the application cost will be greatly reduced with the popularization of commercial 5G. Luan Xuefeng, deputy dean of Suning Logistics Institute said “At present, each AGV robot has its own brain the chip pricing about 80,000 RMB. When 5G technology is mature, the robots can be centrally managed by intensification method. The hundreds of robots will be controlled by Central Brain, reducing cost.
In 2016, robot vision and face recognition began to enter into commercialization, and smart robot AMR based on computer vision has gradually been popular. AMR and AGV have similar names, but they are absolutely different no matter in terms of core technology or operation way.
First of all, AMR runs similar to automatic driving car. In darkness, the sensor-the camera is the eye of the AMR. Secondly, there is no need to lay tracks or change environment, with high flexibility, thus the deployment cost in warehouse is lower. Nowadays, 5G technology enters into commercialization stage. Qi Ou, the founder and CEO of ForwardX Robotics Co., Ltd. believes that with the support of 5G, communication bandwidth will be greater, data feedback will be more real-time and synchronization will be realized at second or millisecond level in the future.
Smart AGV forklifts include pallet forklift AGV, wide foot stacker forklift AGV, footless stacker forklift AGV, which are used for logistics circulation of pallet goods stacked. The smart AGV forklift is composed of hydraulic lifting system, differential drive system, PLC control system, guidance system, communication system, alarm system, operation system and power supply, is an automated guided vehicle which is programmable and can be dispatched wirelessly, integrating hydraulic lifting and PLC controlling.
Currently the sales volume of forklift from China ranks among the top, and the forklift industry is still flourishing and prosperous after entering 2018. The forklift cumulative sales volume from Jan. to April in 2018 was 196.6 thousand sets, a 21.42% year-on-year growth.
As goods picking and stacking by worker are mechanical and repetitive actions, the robotic picking system mentioned above greatly improves picking efficiency. Meanwhile, with the constant development of technology, robotic arms are also evolving. Compared with human arms, the biggest difference is flexibility and durance of robotic arms.
Currently, the transfer of warehouse goods is still manually handled in most of time, especially there is a lack of warehousing robotics arm for fast loading and unloading goods when goods are unloaded from transportation truck. Therefore, regarding the issue above, some companies had the idea of using smart robotic arms in warehouse. However, from the perspective of the whole market, there will be still a period of development before robotic arms are applied in warehouse, which should be further improved in accuracy and flexibility.
The drones currently have not been widely used in logistics field, mainly used in the end delivery and warehousing links.
In warehouse, drone is small and agile, can shuttle back and forth between shelves, and it's equipped with camera device which connects to control center and can send data back to control center so that the staff in control center can distinguish if the goods on shelves are located at accurate position according to the colors returned by drone, with high accuracy, high efficiency and a lot of manpower saved by this way.
In addition to inspection, the warehousing drone also has the roles of handling goods as well as completing tasks such as data acquisition, inventory monitoring, forklift operation, updating of company warehouse management system, etc.
But now, the application of warehousing inspection drone in China is still in its infancy.
Logistics industry is an industry with high workforce demand and repetitive manual labor. However, according to public data, the labor force in China has declined for 5 consecutive years. The shortage of labor force forces traditional warehousing industry to transform to be unmanned and intelligent, which largely contributes to the emergence of smart warehousing companies.
The data also indicates that the financing events of smart logistics companies are growing. There were a total of 403 financing events from 2010 to 2018, and the total amount was as high as 71.16 billion RMB according to the calculation of public specific financing amount. Forced by market need and chased by capital, logistics equipment become more and more digital and intelligent. In the future, there is still some distance to go to improve the automation, stability and flexibility of logistics equipment.
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