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Robots in the warehouse and safe racking

AUTONOMOUS mobile robots (AMRs) are revolutionising the warehousing landscape internationally, setting new standards for expectations and deliverables. This exciting technology is already being used to a limited extent in South Africa – with companies reporting wide-ranging benefits.  Andy Cooper of European Conveyors and Components, a specialist in materials handling and technology explored this topic at the recent Warehouse Automation hybrid conference hosted by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport: South Africa.

In digital technology company Zebra’s most recent global Warehouse Vision Study published in 2022, 99% of warehouse operators expected to deploy some form of AMRs in the next five years, even though only 27% say they are using AMRs in their warehouses today.

According to Cooper, AMRs encompass exciting new technologies, which are bringing about real Return on Investment (ROI) – hence the quick adoption from industry. AMRs employ a system that has an Artificial Intelligence algorithm; they are constantly learning and can plan journeys independently. Says Cooper: “AMRs use Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM), which enables you to build a map and localise your vehicle in that map at the same time. SLAM algorithms allow the vehicle to map out unknown environments.”

Numerous benefits

Cooper outlined just some of the benefits of including AMRs in warehouses: increased efficiency; rapid ROI (one to three years), quick deployment (AMRs can go live within three to four months); better utilisation of storage space (by up to 30%), increased picking accuracy (up to 99.9 per cent); and, safer operations.

Contrary to popular belief, automation does not automatically take the place of people and so need not result in job losses. “Many warehouse companies are seeing that AMRs are making warehouse jobs less stressful, as operators’ jobs require less walking and a reduced amount of handling and picking,” says Cooper. “Indeed, warehouse workers have reported increased productivity and a reduction in the mistakes they make. AMRs have enabled them to advance to new roles and opportunities.”

Racking inspection and safe racking

Storage and racking systems can pose potential dangers in a warehouse. Even a properly stationed pallet rack does not guarantee that product will not fall from the shelves. Material Handling Equipment (MHE) is one of the most common causes of accidents in warehouses. Leader Nkala, SHERQ Director at leading local racking and shelving company Acrow, shared practical safety tools and tips at the CILTSA warehouse conference on this important topic.

Nkala will shared the company’s 10 Racking Health and Safety Commandments, highlight the compliance requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), and stress the importance of ongoing training.

“Racking and shelving are important assets in any warehouse – helping you make the most of your storage space and optimising the organisation of your products. However, when these are damaged or incorrectly loaded or installed, they can become dangerous,” he explains.

CILTSA’s conference was hosted in collaboration with the Transport Forum. The event sponsors included Acrow, Fumani Holdings, ISB Optimus, Mamoja Trading and Projects, Toyota Material Handling, CFAO Equipment and Tendai Mhlanga Photography . Event supporters included CILTSA interest group Women in Logistics and Transport: South Africa (WiLATSA), the African Women in Supply Chain Association and Sincpoint.

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