A new project clears the way for cobots in logistics

The Flanders Institute for Logistics (VIL), in collaboration with Sirris, aims to use the ‘Cobots in Logistics’ project to help the logistics industry learn about and acquire practical experience of the potential of these flexible service robots.

In the future, an increasing number of employees will do their job next to a ‘cobot’, or collaborative robot. These robots can learn simple tasks, for which they can be quickly and easily brought in at a limited investment cost. In the logistics sector, these robots and their possible applications largely remain honoured strangers. What is the state of the art with cobots today? What are their possible uses in logistics? How can they be used and simulated in practice? Working through the project ‘Cobots in Logistics’ , the VIL will formulate a practical answer to all these questions. In collaborating with Sirris, which already has considerable knowledge and experience with this sort of robot, the cobot will be tested live in several pilot studies.

More competitive thanks to automation

The structural wage handicap weighs heavily on the productivity of the logistics warehouse operations in Flanders. For a number of activities with low added value, the (more expensive) workers could be replaced by (cheaper) robots. This lowers the total operational cost, as a result of which the logistic activities can remain onshored in Flanders to the benefit of local employment.

But robotics not only offers the prospect of cost optimisation, it can, for example, also assist in heavy and difficult operations and reduce the number of errors in repetitive tasks.

Opportunities for logistics 

  • To help logistics employees perform repetitive tasks (packing, sorting, ...) in a very user-friendly and safe way with the aim of increasing worker productivity
  • Avoiding difficult manipulations with heavy loads or non-ergonomic operations
  • Simple and flexible automation of certain VAL activities such as a partial assembly, labelling and the assembly or consolidation of a shipping package (e-commerce)

Supported by 3D vision, the cobot can, for example:

  • Take random parts from a box or tray and either sort them or put them in shipping package in a controlled manner
  • Stack shipping packages of variable sizes on the basis of an optimal stacking pattern
  • Pick up randomly-placed boxes and place them in a controlled manner (consolidation of shipping packages).

Practical

The project will start in December 2014 and will focus on logistic service providers and shippers who have to deal with fairly repetitive tasks, Value Added Logistics (VAL) activities and other tasks for which a higher degree of flexible automation based on service robots could represent innovative progress.

Interested in taking part? Click here for more information about this project!

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