At present, intelligent storage robot systems have begun to be more and more widely used in e-commerce, shoes and clothing, books, express delivery, manufacturing and other industries. In order to better meet the requirements of different customers in different industries, make the system more efficient in different operating scenarios, and further reduce costs, different intelligent warehouse robot solutions have begun to emerge.
Since Amazon acquired the robotics project of Kiva systems in 2012, the way in which new intelligent warehouse robots help complete warehouse picking operations has begun to attract worldwide attention. In the following years, Amazon continued to expand the use of Kiva robots, and its successful application quickly helped this new type of "goods to people" solution project land in the Chinese market. During this period, it happened to be a period of rapid development of China's e-commerce and express delivery industry, which provided market space for intelligent warehousing robots. With the help of capital, a large number of domestic intelligent warehousing robot companies, represented by Geek+ and Kuaicang, have begun to emerge.
With the gradual disappearance of China's demographic dividend and rising labor costs, logistics automation has become an inevitable trend in the development of the industry. In order to achieve higher operating efficiency, meet the logistics needs of more application scenarios, and reduce operating costs, many companies have increased their efforts to innovate and develop warehousing robot solutions, and various forms of intelligent warehousing robot systems have entered the public eye.
Intelligent warehouse robot and its characteristics
Although the current concept of intelligent storage robots is very popular, there is no standard definition in the industry. From the perspective of the functions implemented by the robots used in the logistics field, they mainly include handling, destacking, palletizing, picking, sorting and other operations. Therefore, the intelligent storage robot can also be regarded as the general term for the above different types of logistics robots. The objects discussed in this article are mainly focused on the latter two categories-intelligent warehouse robots with picking and sorting functions, namely Kiva-like robots.
In fact, this type of robot is also called a new type of AGV (Automatic Guided Vehicle), and its navigation methods are more advanced, including industry mainstream QR code navigation, laser navigation, SLAM navigation, etc. The driving path is not restricted, and the robot can walk freely . In addition, the intelligent storage robot has a more powerful upper software system, which can control and schedule the mixed operation of multiple robots. More importantly, the intelligent storage robot can automatically complete handling, sorting and other operations without relying on manual labor, which is very suitable for random storage and disassembly picking scenarios with large SKUs and large quantities of goods.
According to Zheng Yong, CEO of Beijing Geek+ Technology Co., Ltd. (Geek+), compared with other goods-to-person systems, in addition to being highly automated, it can greatly reduce labor costs and improve picking efficiency and accuracy. The warehouse robot system also has many advantages, such as:
(1) The project implementation speed is very fast, the delivery cycle is short, the project deployment can usually be completed within 3 months, and the on-site installation and commissioning are simple. This is a huge advantage for fast-developing industries such as e-commerce;
(2) The system is flexible. The intelligent warehousing robot system can increase or decrease the amount of robots at any time according to business needs to realize the flexible deployment and expansion of the system. The shelf layout can also be flexibly adjusted according to the frequency of product picking;
(3) Low investment and short return period. As labor costs and management costs have been greatly reduced, the overall project investment payback period is shorter than that of traditional automation projects.
Main innovation directions of intelligent warehousing robots
With many of the above advantages, the current intelligent storage robot system has begun to be more and more used in e-commerce, shoes and clothing, books, express delivery, manufacturing and other industries. In order to better meet the requirements of different customers in different industries, make the system more efficient in different operating scenarios, and further reduce costs, different intelligent warehouse robot solutions have begun to emerge. These innovations are mainly manifested in the following aspects.
1. Diversified sorting robot carriers
Sorting robots are currently mainly used for rapid parcel sorting in e-commerce, postal, express and other industries. They have large-scale scheduling capabilities and intelligent path planning capabilities, but the type, weight, and size of processing objects are subject to certain restrictions. In order to adapt to more business scenarios, robot vehicles are becoming more and more diverse.
Flip: Taking Shentong "Little Yellow Man" and JD "Little Red Man" as typical representatives, this solution has been applied in multiple express delivery centers and e-commerce sorting centers. According to public information, during the peak period of the “Double 11” business in 2017, there were a total of 330 “Little Red Men” in JD’s unmanned warehouses operating on a 1,000-square-meter site with an operating speed of 3m/ s, the efficiency is greatly improved.
Belt: The flap structure is replaced with a belt structure. This transformation can break through the flap sorting robot's limitation on the weight of packages. Generally speaking, this kind of robot can sort packages of more than 20 kg. At present, companies such as Geek+, Kuaicang, and Muxing have all launched this type of product, and Vanderlande plans to apply it in the airport baggage sorting scene.
It is worth mentioning that ordinary sorting robots need to build a two-story steel platform, and the steel platform is expensive to build, as high as 3,000 yuan/㎡, and it is time-consuming to build, the construction period is long, the transformation cost is high, and it is not easy to relocate. In order to solve the above problems, companies such as Geek+ and Kuaicang have launched a floor-standing sorting system that does not require a steel platform, which can be connected to a cage to complete parcel sorting. This also means that if a 2,000m2 sorting site uses a floor-standing sorting system, the construction cost can save millions of yuan.
Roller: Some companies have replaced the flap with a roller structure. This type of robot is not only used in the sorting process, but also widely used in material transportation in combination with mobile robots, such as production logistics in manufacturing and warehouses. Transfer goods from the storage system to the conveyor system. At this year's LET China, Jing Song demonstrated this kind of liftable intelligent storage robot.
2. Diversified picking robot solutions
(1) Kiva-like robot "goods to people" solution
This kind of robot solution is currently the solution with the most providers, the most applications, and the most mainstream solution. That is, the robot transports the shelf where the order is placed to the picking station. The robot replaces the manual walking in the warehouse to find the goods, which not only greatly saves manpower, but also Effectively improve efficiency and accuracy. However, because the robot needs to sneak into the bottom of the shelf, the navigation accuracy of the robot is high. Since there are many analyses on this solution in the industry, this article will not repeat it.
(2) "Order to person" solution
According to Tan Wenzhe, chief designer of Zhejiang Guozi Robot Technology Co., Ltd., since the launch of the Kiva robot, its high handling energy consumption has been criticized by the industry. "In order to drink a mouthful of milk, the whole cow was moved over." Image metaphor. In order to improve the accuracy of merchandise handling, save transportation capacity, and reduce ineffective logistics, storage robots are required to be able to handle smaller inventory units instead of entire shelves, thereby further improving system efficiency and reducing operating costs. Therefore, after Kiva robots, there are "goods-to-person" or "order-to-person" warehousing robot solutions that use cargo boxes or order boxes as the carrier unit at home and abroad. That is, the shelf is fixed, and the robot replaces the operator for long-distance walking, and the picker works in a certain area.
According to Zheng Yong, because the system requires robots and operators, and the operating environment is more complicated, the navigation method generally uses updated SLAM technology (instant positioning and map construction). Comparing these two solutions, the "goods to people" solution saves more manpower. As the demand for unmanned warehouses continues to expand, this system has more advantages. The "order-to-person" system does not require much transformation of the warehouse and is easier to apply in stages. Relatively speaking, it has a larger application space in industrial manufacturing and other fields.
(3) Other combined solutions
For example, the Star System picking solution launched by Guozi Robot. In 2017, the system received a large international order from Staples (the world's first user of Kiva), the world's top 500 office stationery giant, and attracted the attention of the industry. According to Tan Wenzhe, the new generation of warehousing robot solution Star System is mainly oriented to the whole-in-zero-out warehouse with a large number of SKUs. The warehouse is intelligently partitioned according to the frequency of goods being picked, using the "person-to-goods" + "goods-to-person" approach. "Combination of dynamic and static" fulfills the order picking process. It is significantly better than the Kiva system in terms of product handling efficiency, robot access efficiency, and system picking efficiency, and can be widely adapted to the picking needs of modern warehouses. At present, Star System has fully implemented the upgrade and replacement of the Kiva system in Staples warehouses, and will be launched in more than 50 Staples warehouses in the United States in the future.
Several representative new intelligent warehouse robots
1. Jingdong Pegasus Robot
The Pegasus Robot System is jointly created by the R&D team of Silicon Valley, USA, and Beijing of the X Division of Jingdong Group. Pegasus adopts SLAM navigation, which can realize trackless autonomous movement with a maximum speed of 3m/s.
The specific operation process of the system is: After receiving the picking task, the Pegasus robot will automatically calculate the optimal path according to the warehouse layout to go to the target product area; the picker will place the goods in the robot's own basket according to the instructions; Pegasus The robot sends the baskets to the conveyor belt according to the system instructions and continues to perform the next task. In order to ensure the efficient and smooth operation of the system, the Pegasus back-end system can perform real-time scheduling of a large number of robots, and can also achieve dynamic task allocation and improve picking efficiency. From the actual effect, the Pegasus system can save about 40% of the walking distance of the operator. At present, the system is used in Jingdong "Asia One" warehouse, and is suitable for storage, picking, merging and handling scenarios of small and medium-sized warehouses.
At present, many warehouse robots can already achieve people following, obstacle avoidance and other functions. Pegasus robots can also realize "cars follow people" according to actual picking requirements, and do not need to wear tracking devices manually, but follow the Pegasus system Personnel perform visual recognition to realize the "real-time response" of the robot.
2. National Star System
Star System is a complete set of innovative logistics solutions developed by China based on the GRACE platform. It can dispatch more than 1,200 robots to operate efficiently at the same time, and realize functions such as system automatic docking, order demand analysis, optimal task assignment, path planning and so on.
Star System is composed of Cart AGV and Picking AGV robots and related control software. Picking AGV is a typical "order-to-person" solution. One Pikcing AGV can carry five containers in one trip. According to actual operation results, its overall efficiency (including bicycle efficiency, platform picking efficiency, and floor efficiency) is significantly improved compared to similar Kiva robots; the overall operating cost of the system is lower under the same picking efficiency, and the warehouse area is larger. The more obvious the effect.
3.Geek+ sorting robot S20
The S20 robot is the first domestic sorting product built by Geek+ for automatic sorting scenarios that does not require a steel platform, and the cost can be reduced by 30% to 40%. The S20 robot body is matched with a higher roller table carrier, which can directly transfer the package to the cage.
According to reports, the system is very flexible. It can not only improve the efficiency of manual sorting, but also be implemented as a fully automated sorting system. At the same time, it further reduces the difficulty of deployment and implementation of intelligent storage robots, reduces engineering workload and costs, and has a high degree of standardization. , The construction period is short, and the entire system can be launched in 20 days.
4. Quick warehouse intelligent sorting robot system
The fast warehouse intelligent sorting robot is divided into two types: large belt and small belt, which can realize walking and throwing to meet the needs of fast and efficient sorting of large and small packages. According to Sun Di, director of the market department of Kuaicang, compared with the cross-belt sorter, the intelligent sorting system solution of Kuaicang has the characteristics of short implementation period, low transformation cost, high flexibility, and scalability. The core intelligent dispatching and path planning can dispatch nearly a thousand robots at the same time, and its processing capacity can reach 15,000 pieces per hour.
At present, the solution has been successfully applied in an express mail sorting center. The types of mail processed cover shoes, clothing, food, sports goods (not one classification standard), etc., and the sorting efficiency reaches 12,000 pieces per hour. The main process is: the package enters the sorting area through the conveyor line, the small belt robot automatically receives the package, scans the weighing door to obtain the information, and puts the package into the designated cage according to the instruction, and then the small handling robot will take the full cage Cars to the packing area/general package supply area. Based on the good application effect, the logistics center will further expand the use of robots in the future.
In addition, at the 2018 Global Smart Logistics Summit, the intelligent picking robot system jointly showcased by Kuaicang and Cainiao broke the limitation of single-zone operations, and realized the linkage picking of "goods to people" and "cars to people" through innovative models. Improving the level of automation and picking efficiency has become a key technology in Cainiao's unmanned warehouse.
The cold winter of the intelligent warehouse robot market is coming?
In addition to the robot products and solutions mentioned above, there are many different structures and forms of intelligent storage robots, such as intelligent storage robots with forks, etc., which cannot be listed all due to space limitations. It is not difficult to see that in order to better adapt to the different requirements of customers, robotics companies, AGV companies, logistics equipment vendors and integrators are all deploying in the market to provide users with a variety of different robotic products and solutions.
During the interview, the reporter learned that in 2017, the shipment volume of Geek+ and Kuaicang's smart storage robots was about 2,000. The overall shipment of the industry is expected to exceed 5,000, and it is expected to exceed 10,000 in 2018. However, does this mean that the spring of the intelligent robot industry is coming, and the market is about to explode?
Zheng Yong disagrees. He believes that the current smart robot solutions are not the mainstream of the market, and there are few “repeat customers” in the project. Whether the industry will usher in the opportunity for rapid change in the short term is still unknown, which depends largely on the attitude of capital. According to the direction of the capital market, the second half of this year to next year may enter a cold winter period, which will undoubtedly be a huge test for the industry. If the capital winter really comes, how should robot companies respond is worth pondering.
But what is certain is that the continuous improvement of technology and innovative solutions to achieve higher efficiency and lower costs are the focus of the development of the robotics industry. In terms of technology, Zheng Yong believes that indoor robot visual navigation technology will overlap more and more with outdoor unmanned driving. This also means that the requirements for robots’ intelligence and safety will become higher and higher, and they need to be able to Achieve more flexible and smooth obstacle avoidance.
Sun Di also said that the technical core of the future intelligent storage robot must be based on the unmanned technology platform in the warehouse. The platform has machine vision, multi-sensor fusion, multi-vehicle collaboration, machine learning, environmental perception and other technologies, so that the storage robot can Open your eyes, can think, communicate, and have a soul. Through a technical platform with such basic capabilities, different product forms are given to each link of the entire warehousing logistics, including smart sorting, smart handling, and smart picking business scenarios. , Realize labor-saving and even unmanned warehouse operations.
In terms of solutions, Tan Wenzhe said that with the rapid development of e-commerce and logistics industries and the increase in labor costs year by year, unmanned warehouses and unmanned distribution have become the general trend. After the manipulator can replace the manual work of picking up and packing goods, the warehouse will be completely unmanned. But at this stage, the cost of building a completely unmanned warehouse is too high, and it is not cost-effective from the perspective of return on investment. Therefore, how to improve warehouse efficiency and control investment costs as much as possible through the organic combination of "people to goods", "goods to people" and "orders to people", that is, maximize cost performance, is an important consideration for all warehousing robot solutions. factor.
In addition, Zheng Yong believes that the standardization of intelligent warehousing robot solutions is also very important for the future development of the industry, because customized and locally optimal solutions are actually not conducive to the effectiveness of the entire logistics system, or long-term optimal The input-output ratio. This is why Amazon has applied Kiva robotic solutions to replace traditional operating modes on a large scale in its logistics centers. Therefore, standardization is a very important prerequisite for large-scale promotion of logistics automation systems in the future, and only after standardization can the cost of robots be greatly reduced.