Pick and Place Robots Provide Advantages from Assembly to Order Fulfillment

The global e-commerce growth rate has increased steadily since the early 2000s and is picking up momentum as we head further into the 2020s. A recent report from Oberlo anticipates that current global ecommerce sales of $5.8 trillion will surpass $8 trillion by 2027. This means that manufacturers, warehousers and fulfillment centers will have to step up their game if they want to meet consumer demand, especially as they still face challenges associated with labor shortages and supply chain disruptions. As a result, many organizations are investing in automation in an effort to remain competitive and pick and place robots are often the technology of choice as they can help organizations optimize the speed and efficiency of all their operations from assembly straight on through to order fulfillment.

The Advantages of Automating Pick and Place

Pick and place robots, especially those that are equipped with advanced vision systems and customized grippers, are adept at picking products from one location and placing and organizing them in another. They are well suited for service in a range of applications from assembly to quality control to packaging to warehousing and order fulfillment. In addition to significantly boosting efficiency due to the high speed and accuracy they bring to these applications, pick and place automation eliminates the use of employees for low-value, repetitive and time-consuming tasks and frees them to accomplish more complex, stimulating and value-added jobs in the facility. And, of course, the opportunity to run uninterrupted 24 hours a day/7 days a week allows for greater throughput with reduced per hour labor costs.

Applying pick and place robots offers other benefits, as well, including enhanced data collection, accuracy and quality control as robots are programmed to pick parts or products and place them in a designated area with high levels of precision and repeatability, as well as improved safety as pick and place activities often result in repetitive motion and musculoskeletal injuries in the workforce due to the associated lifting, bending and twisting motions.

Pick and Place Robots: From Assembly to Order Fulfillment

Not only do pick and place robots provide a lot of financial- and performance-related advantages, but they are flexible enough to be used across a broad range of applications, which can help manufacturers get their product from the assembly line straight on through to order fulfillment with efficiency, speed and accuracy. Common applications for pick and place automation include:

  • Manufacturing/Assembly: Pick and place robots are used to pick up and place parts, objects or products onto conveyor belts or other production equipment with speed and accuracy. Those equipped with the right accessories can also be used to pick up components, assemble them into finished products or sub-assemblies and place them back on the line to continue for further processing or packaging/shipping.
  • Bin Picking: Assembly lines usually involve selecting components from bins and placing them on the line for further assembly or placing them into kits. Order fulfillment often necessitates that a product be selected from a bin or shelf and placed into a package for shipping. Pick and place robots can handle these tasks with high levels of speed and accuracy and those equipped with vision systems can pick by color, size, shape, bar code or other identifiers.
  • Inspection/Quality Control: Pick and place robots with advanced vision systems can select products from a moving line and inspect them for defects or flaws and place them back on the line if they pass inspection or into a bin if they do not. They are also able to identify and verify that the object selected for shipping is the correct one if they are equipped to read bar codes or other identifiers.
  • Sorting Merchandise: Pick and place robots not only move products from one location to another, but many are capable of sorting merchandise or differentiating between one product or another to select the appropriate item for assembly, packaging or shipping.
  • Kitting: Pick and place automation can assemble kits of parts or products at high rates with accuracy and consistency. This skill is applicable to both manufacturing and order fulfillment operations.
  • Packaging: Pick and place automation can be used to pick up finished product and place it into packages such as boxes or bags. It can also be used to place finished packages/products into boxes for shipping or for order fulfillment. Pick and place robots may also be used to place boxed items onto pallets for shipping.
  • Warehousing/Order Fulfillment: In order fulfillment centers, warehouses or manufacturers’ shipping departments, pick and place robots can be used to pick items from bins, shelves or distribution conveyors for packing and shipping with greater accuracy and speed and lower costs than human workers. Properly outfitted pick and place robots can select items from different bins or zones of the warehouse and place them together in a shipping box.

Pick and Place Robot Technologies for Manufacturing and Order Fulfillment

While pick and place activities might seem simple for human workers, pick and place robots require a combination of several technologies to accomplish these tasks at high speeds and with great accuracy, as follows:

Pick and place robotEnd of arm tooling
First, the robot must be selected based on application criteria which might include pick rate or how many items it can move per minute, maximum weight of products to be handled, speed, reach, number of axes and other specifications that are important to the job. The robot is usually mounted to a base on the floor or to an overhead frame in a location that grants access to the entire work zone.Pick and place robots used for assembly or order fulfillment are typically equipped with end of arm tooling that is selected specifically for the type and weight of product being manipulated or picked.
Vision systemControl system
A vision system is likely necessary if the pick and place robot will need to assemble, pick and/or package parts or products that need to be located by specific coordinates or identified by color, shape, size, bar code or another identifying mark. Vision systems are also necessary for inspection and quality control during manufacturing, packaging and order fulfillment.A PLC will contain the programming necessary for the robot to properly complete tasks, such as learning the trajectories required to ensure that the robot selects the item from the proper conveyor, bin or shelf and places it in the proper location, package or shipping container and to comprehend the specifications or parameters necessary for quality control and inspection.

Because they can significantly improve efficiency, speed and productivity while reducing labor costs and improving accuracy and quality, a properly selected and equipped pick and place robot can help manufacturers, warehousers and order fulfillment centers meet increasing consumer demands despite the current business challenges. To learn more about automating pick and place activities from assembly through order fulfillment, please contact JHFOSTER.