• Robotic picking. Image: IEC Group
    Robotic picking. Image: IEC Group

Modern Manufacturing Expo (MME) will be highlighting how robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) can turn supply chains into ‘value chains’.

In a crowded global market, manufacturers are always on the lookout for technologies that will give them an edge. Robotics and AI are considered by experts to be such technologies.

Michael Kemeny, managing director of KNAPP Australia, provider of intelligent end-to-end automation solutions, views autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and AI as the key to unlocking Australia’s manufacturing competitiveness.

However, there is still something preventing the uses of robotics in manufacturing from reaching its full potential – a knowledge gap among Australian manufacturers on how best to approach this highly specialised field.

“Your first port of call should be a robotics specialist with a proven track record who can provide a fully integrated robotics solutions,” explained Kemeny.

Michael Kemeny, managing director of KNAPP Australia. Image: Modern Manufacturing Expo
Michael Kemeny, managing director of KNAPP Australia. Image: IEC Group

“Many robotics start-ups lack experience in defining efficient workflows and processes for controlling their AMRs, and the necessary communication between the AMRs, the WMS (warehouse management system), and WC (warehouse control system). 

“This communication is essential to control factors, such as a route planning, pick-path planning, order batching, and order release and start. If this communication is not in place, AMRs will travel unnecessary distances and lose much of their efficiency and performance, resulting in more equipment and higher costs.” 

KNAPP is determined to close the AI and robotics knowledge gap, which exists within the Australian manufacturing sector, and the company plans to share the wealth of information it has gathered over the years at the upcoming MME on 20-21 September at the Sydney Olympic Park. 

KNAPP’s automation solutions and a range of similarly innovative, future-thinking technologies, and advanced manufacturing techniques will be on show at the Expo. 

KNAPP got involved with the MME because of their desire to bolster the manufacturing industry, who can greatly benefit from accessing information about supply chain improvements. 

“The upcoming expo is the perfect platform to share our insights into how robotics can help supply chains transform into value chains,” Kemeny said. 

“The shift to prioritising value chains has the potential to increase a manufacturer’s Unique Selling Points (USPs), strengthen their value proposition, and grow their competitive advantage.” 

Robotics and the creation of a value chain

According to Kemeny, robotics and intelligent automation improve the visibility of the supply chain by automating inventory processes. This is said to be crucial because accurate stock data can be the difference between winning and losing a customer. 

Other ways in which integrating robotics and automation along the supply chain can maximise value include:

  • AI can be used to connect robots all over the globe and transfer learnings, and process adaptions across different manufacturing plants and warehouses.
  • Robots can provide the necessary accuracy and efficiency to cope with rising e-commerce deliveries and sales, and provide more resilience and agility.
  • Transport tasks can be optimised using robots, specifically AMRs. AMRs combine advanced sensors, AI and machine learning algorithms to bring more flexibility to transport tasks. They react in real-time and adopt route planning to navigate manufacturing facilities efficiently. 

“AMRs offer manufacturers numerous benefits and promise more flexibility in the supply chain, but how and where they are used in your enterprise must be considered carefully,” cautioned Kemeny. 

“A good example is a case where AMRs take up a lot of floor space in storing and retrieving goods in good-to-person picking environment – but the area directly above them in the facility, right up to the ceiling, is wasted. 

“Therefore, they might not be the right tool for this environment and a waste of expensive real estate space.”

Open shuttles. Image: Modern Manufacturing Expo
Open shuttles. Image: Knapp / IEC Group

Humans and robots working together

While ‘where’ AMRs are placed is an important consideration in creating an efficient value chain, Kemeny said ‘how’ they are used is equally important. 

“Traditionally, companies have used robots and automation to reduce headcount,” he continued. 

“But this should not be their true purpose as it will only alienate your human workforce. We believe that humans and machines do not compete, but rather complement each other.”

The new generation of AMRs use AI to navigate factories, pick items, and find the most intelligent way to collaborate with people. 

One of the top benefits highlighted of robotics in manufacturing lies in automating manual movements. 

Human operators are only allowed to handle around 15-25kg based on health and safety regulations, and can become fatigued when performing manual labour. AMRs however, can easily manipulate more weight, and move goods faster and more accurately than humans, keeping the flow of goods moving through the facility. 

AMRs also curb the health and safety risks of people handling heavy loads and performing repetitive tasks. 

“It’s still crucial to remember the human advantage – people are able to respond quickly and flexibly to new requirements in ways that robots cannot,” said Kemeny. 

“But together, humans and technology make a great team for implementing logistic requirements in the most effective and efficient way. The use of AI opens up the range of applications for AMRs, turning them into high-performance, economical assistants.” 

To get this balance right and use the power of robotics and AI to its full potential, it is essential to choose the right automation partner, someone with a high understanding of supply chain processes and robotic software. 

“The step from supply chain to value chain is possible, and robotics can enhance your operation and help create a competitive advantage,” Kemeny concluded.

Industrial storage robots. Image: Modern Manufacturing Expo
Industrial storage robots. Image: Knapp / IEC Group

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