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Superior staff safety using flexible automation

Article by Megan Gee
staff safety in warehouse environment

Why flexible automation offers the very best option for a safer warehouse environment

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown a harsh light on warehouse environment safety. Yet, controlling the spread of contaminants is just one of a myriad of safety challenges faced in large scale storage facilities.

Up until the robotics revolution, the current system was thought to have been the peak of what could be achieved to keep manual workers safe. This is no longer the case. Below are five ways that modern warehouses can be made much safer with flexible automation.

Better contaminant control

Keeping surfaces and equipment clean is a challenging task in any environment, never mind one as large and elaborate as a warehouse fitted with fixed automation. To properly clean a fixed automation system requires significant downtime. Since storage systems and the means by which the robots move are fixed in place, cleaning them will mean a great deal of disruption.

Flexible automation is far more manageable in this area. Neither the storage systems nor the robots that move them are fixed in place. They can be moved to a separate area for cleaning without disrupting the wider workings of the warehouse. Furthermore, the robots require barely any infrastructure, lowering the overall number of surfaces in need of cleaning.

Overall, to keep COVID-19 and any other infections under better control in your warehouse, flexible automation is the way to go.

Safer infrastructure systems

With fixed automation, you have so much more to maintain. Robots, conveyors, rails, gantry, and infrastructures of all kinds. Upkeep of all these is crucial. If any of them should fall, shift, or somehow come loose, manual workers could well be at risk.

Flexible automation eliminates the need for elaborate supporting infrastructure. The robots receive all their instructions wirelessly and use nothing more intrusive than DM codes affixed to the floor for orientation. With fewer things to go wrong, manual workers in a flexible automation space become much safer.

Heightened halting power

With flexible automation robotics, superior safety need not conflict with operational optimisation.

The suite of sophisticated sensors fitted to robots like the Q7 and Q3 prevent any possibility of collision with manual workers. LIDAR, infra-red beams, ultrasonic pulses, and digital cameras, all work together to ensure that in spaces where robots and manual workers operate in close proximity, employee safety is always secure.

Even if a robot needs to stop suddenly, regular operations can continue without disruption. Advanced SLAM navigation means every robot knows the location of every other robot at all times. The RCS system will redirect other robots onto new paths, keeping all your goods moving.

Robot-only option

For some businesses, the ultimate safety option is clear and unambiguous separation. Some operations may need this for social distancing between workers, while for others it may be a necessity arising for other reasons. The end result is specially defined areas where robots work alone, bringing goods to operatives, or shifting items and equipment between staffed stations.

A robot-only-grid of this kind is both easy to achieve and offers highly valuable efficiencies. This kind of arrangement involves an area without walkways or other manually managed paths. Here there would be complete robotic control, where freestanding storage solutions are shifted back and forth to trained staff, standing outside in specially marked picking stations.

Because of the sheer flexibility of these kinds of solutions, this area can be made any shape, any size, and with any number of picking stations or other points of interaction with staff and their supervisors. With this level of controlled direction over where robots and staff come into contact, warehouse safety concerns are dramatically reduced.

Unparalleled adaptability

The single best safety feature offered by flexible automation is its ability to change. When COVID-19 arrived, warehouse managers discovered quickly how problematic close proximity working was for their staff. But with storage racks and automation systems built in place, they would often have no option. The only solution available was to lower the number of staff on the warehouse floor, slowing down operations, and damaging the overall business.

Flexible automation offers adaptability. Picking stations can be moved. Transport routes can be changed. Routines of all kinds can be re-calibrated and readjusted. With a flexible automation solution, your workers can trust that if a situation arises where risks become too great the warehouse can be adjusted and adapted to compensate.

To find out why the robotics revolution offers the safest option for your business and your staff, come and see it in person. Discover Europe’s first flexible automation demonstration centre, and take a tour. Ask questions, witness the robots in action, and learn exactly why so many other businesses are doing the same.

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