Robots-as-a-service – the future of warehouses?
We recently sat down with Damien Skinner, UK Country Manager at Hai Robotics, for a look at what the warehouse of the future would look like. While we were talking, Damien mentioned that future warehouses would probably be built very differently to legacy warehouses, and potentially filled with robotic workers supplied in a whole new way – robots-as-a-service.To get more news about Robotics as a Service
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That will be split between two main user-groups – smaller, regional, and start-up warehouse owners, and larger companies with much higher throughput, even up to multi-national level like Amazon.
The big and the small
For the smaller companies, the key will be scalability – the ability to start small and grow to take advantage of the space and robotics capabilities they need as the business grows, so you may have more urban, relatively vertical warehouses, with a handful of robots and a very visual proposition to start with, for easy learning. Then you’ll be able to add in robots to deal with increased demand as and when you need them.
For larger companies, the key concern will be flexibility. They’ll need a solution that can adapt, change, grow – or even shrink – according to the customer demand. Imagine you have data on your regular monthly throughput, and you have only the robots you need to deal with that, because of course your bottom line is key.
Then you hit the preparation for Black Friday, Christmas, and the January sales. Boom – you’re going to need a lot more robots to deal with the peak demand in those three months. So you’ll need a solution with flexibility to help you cope with that – and that’s where robots-as-a-service (RaaS) comes in.
Using that model, where you lease the robots you need to deal with peak throughput, but aren’t tied into a purchase model, will allow large warehouse owners to reduce their capital expenditure, and deal with those productivity-spikes as an operating expense.
RaaS – a new way to do robotics
Ah, but it needn’t be that much hassle. I mean, the way you’d do it with traditional automation is that when you have a peak of need, you’d try to bring the peak down so your existing system could handle it, and then pay your operatives additional money to stay on longer and get the reduced peak dealt with.
And yes, your traditional automation system would tend to be hardwired, heavy plant, miles of complicated belts and all that, so yes, traditionally, that’d be the way you’d think of an expansion – lots of work, lots of upheaval, and probably not something you could economically do just for, say, three months of the year. Traditional automation definitely ran you into that complexity, cost, and capital expenditure mire.
The future will be easier
But with a RaaS system, if the supplier has the robots in stock, they’re relatively easy to put in place. And you update your warehouse management system to recognize a new robot on the line, and as soon as it recognizes the task it’s there for, boom! You’ve increased your throughput – and by using operating expense, rather than capital expenditure.
It’s not as easy yet as it will be as the system matures and gets more well known and used, but it’s about as easy as moving house, compared to having to knock down your existing house and building a new one in your new location. The RaaS model is the key to “as-needed” robofication of warehouses in the future. It can be done right now, but in the future, it will be done easily, regularly, and ahead of time, to maximize throughput in those months of peak demand.