Technical development and application of robots in the warehousing field

09/04/202010:27:35 Comments 199

At the highly anticipated "2017 World Robot Conference", a variety of robots appeared in a concentrated manner, including different types of storage robots such as handling robots, palletizing robots, packaging robots, and composite robots. According to the "2017 China Robot Industry Development Report" recently released by the Chinese Institute of Electronics, the size of my country's robot market in 2017 is expected to reach 6.28 billion US dollars, and the sales of the three types of robots account for 67% of industrial robots and 21% of service robots. And special robots 12%; if divided according to the type of application, the handling and loading robots accounted for the highest market share in the industrial robot field in 2016, reaching 61%, reflecting the rapid development of the warehouse robot market.

If Amazon's huge acquisition of Kiva has aroused people's high attention to warehousing robots, then the explosive growth of China's e-commerce and express delivery industry in recent years has directly promoted the large-scale application of warehousing robots. At present, warehousing robots have gone from simple tasks such as palletizing, destacking, and handling to more complex logistics operations such as sorting and picking. In addition to e-commerce giants such as Ali, JD.com and Suning, as well as express companies such as Shentong and Yuantong, speeding up the deployment of intelligent robots, companies specializing in the development and production of warehousing robots such as Kuaicang and Jizhijia have also emerged and are sought after by the capital market.

Undoubtedly, the application of storage robots has played an important role in improving work efficiency, reducing staff labor intensity, optimizing resources, and reducing costs. In the long run, as my country’s demographic dividend is gradually disappearing, the problem of high employment costs has become increasingly prominent. It is inevitable to replace labor with robots and improve the level of warehouse automation; in addition, the concept of "industry 4.0" and "intelligent manufacturing" Driven by this, intelligent logistics will usher in a huge development opportunity, and the application of robot integrated systems in the warehousing link will also increase substantially.

In short, in the field of logistics and warehousing in our country, "machine substitution" is changing from an ideal to a reality, but it is worth further investigation that the market situation is not as hot as the enterprise expected. How to use robots to promote the upgrade of the warehousing system, how to make a good trade-off between improving efficiency and reducing costs, how to break the bottleneck and improve the technical level of warehousing robots, how to launch suitable and easy-to-use warehousing robots in line with needs, and which application models will accelerate the development of the warehousing robot market , These are the issues that the industry needs to think about next.

In this topic, we conducted in-depth interviews with first-line companies in the warehousing and logistics robot market, and analyzed the current technological development and market application of warehousing robots in my country in the form of reviews, interviews, and case studies, clarified the status quo, and analyzed bottlenecks. Discuss the trend, make suggestions, and provide certain thinking for the development of the industry.

The development status and future trends of warehouse logistics robots in my country

Text / Yang Wenhua

In recent years, the explosive growth of e-commerce and express delivery industry has given birth to the vigorous development of logistics robots. Taking this as an opportunity, China's logistics robots pattern is also expanding from the traditional industrial field to the commercial service field.

As the market’s demand for logistics automation equipment continues to increase, robots have become more and more widely used in the logistics industry. They have penetrated into all aspects of warehousing and distribution, not only improving the efficiency of logistics operations, reducing the labor intensity of staff, but also Help optimize resources and reduce costs, with good economic benefits and broad development prospects. This article mainly discusses the technical development and market application of robots in the storage field.

1. Strong market demand

At present, economically developed countries have launched industrial 4.0, intelligent manufacturing and other plans, setting off a new wave of technological changes. The industry is developing from automation to informatization, digitization, and intelligence. We are moving towards an interconnected world, where every link in industrial production can communicate in real time, making mass customization possible.

In China, as an important industry of intelligent manufacturing, the robot industry has shown rapid development thanks to the guidance of national policies such as "Made in China 2025" and "Robot Industry Development Plan". China has been the world's largest industry for several consecutive years. Robot market position. Data show that in 2016, global industrial robot sales were 290,000 units, a year-on-year increase of 14%. Among them, China's industrial robot sales were nearly 90,000 units, a year-on-year increase of 29%, while the cumulative sales of domestic robots were 29,000 units, a year-on-year increase of 31%. In 2017, China's industrial robot sales are expected to exceed 100,000 units.

Since its birth, industrial robots have become key equipment in automated production and logistics systems, and have become an important part of the rapid development of modern logistics systems. In the industrial manufacturing and logistics industries, in order to improve the degree of automation and ensure product quality, companies usually need high-speed logistics lines throughout the entire production process. In recent years, the explosive growth of e-commerce and express delivery industry has given birth to the vigorous development of logistics robots. Robots have gone from traditional stacking, destacking, and handling tasks to warehousing, sorting, and distribution. Amazon, as an e-commerce brand pole company, released its wheeled mobile robot KIVA (also known as AGV) for sorting in 2013, which realized large-scale "goods-to-person" sorting in parallel, providing e-commerce warehousing And sorting has brought revolutionary changes. This model is combined with the Internet and big data technology to improve the perception ability and independent decision-making ability of the logistics system, and the degree of intelligence is significantly improved. Taking this as an opportunity, China's logistics robot landscape is also expanding from the traditional industrial field to the commercial service field.

In addition, the long-term implementation of the family planning policy has led to a low fertility rate, and the problem of aging society in our country has become increasingly prominent. The burden on families and society will become heavier. The continuous increase in labor costs has led to a substantial increase in the burden on enterprises. In the face of multiple pressures, only repetitive, arduous, and low-return work is left to the machine to complete. Nowadays, this problem has become more and more prominent in the logistics industry, and the importance of logistics robots has become more and more prominent.

According to the field of application, logistics robots are divided into two categories: one for industrial manufacturing and the other for commercial logistics. The functions realized by the logistics robot are mainly handling, palletizing, unstacking, sorting, etc. In the field of industrial manufacturing, automotive, electronics, metal processing and other industries are still the main application industries of logistics robots; in the field of commercial logistics, e-commerce and express delivery industries have the most urgent demand for logistics robots (AGV) with sorting functions.

2. Development status analysis

In recent years, logistics robots have made considerable progress, and their applications have also continued to expand. From the perspective of operation and technology, there are two main types of robots used in the field of warehousing and logistics. One is industrial robots used in items palletizing, unstacking, sorting and packaging, such as articulated robots and rectangular coordinate robots. , Parallel robots, collaborative (composite) robots, etc. The other type is a wheeled mobile robot used for handling and sorting links, namely automatic guided vehicles (AGV).

Technical development and application of robots in the warehousing field

Kunchuan Intelligent AGV

Palletizing robots are responsible for palletizing materials on pallets in the logistics system. Palletizing robots can not only work continuously for a long time, but their palletizing speed, accuracy and load capacity must exceed manual operations. With the rise of domestic labor costs, the logistics industry's demand for palletizing robots has been greatly improved. Especially in recent years, the technological progress of key components such as hand grippers has greatly improved the palletizing efficiency and adaptability of the robot. The grippers can grab materials of different specifications and sizes. Technically, the palletizing robot body technology is relatively mature, and the current technological development is more inclined to the development of efficient and reliable fixtures to meet more efficient logistics applications. In recent years, the palletizing robot has realized the palletizing of the whole layer through the reliable whole-layer grabbing fixture, and the single-station operation efficiency has exceeded 2500 pieces/hour.

Technical development and application of robots in the warehousing field

KUKA de-palletizing robot

The function of the destacking robot is to disassemble the goods on the pallet into single pieces. Compared with robot palletizing, destacking is more technically difficult. Factors such as changes in the shape of goods due to extrusion and changes in the position of goods due to transportation will affect the success rate of destacking. Like the palletizing robot, the robot body is relatively mature, and more attention is paid to the design of the fixture.

The sorting robot is supplemented by an image recognition system to determine the position and posture of the material, so as to realize the reliable grasping of the material, thereby completing the automatic packing or sorting of the material. At present, it is widely used in food processing industries such as dairy product packing and pastry packing. In recent years, it has also been promoted and applied in cigarette sorting and distribution in tobacco commercial logistics centers. Its technical focus is mainly on the reliability of image recognition.

The traditional function of an automated guided vehicle (AGV) is as a carrier. In recent years, under the guidance of local policies, hundreds of professional companies with AGV as the main business have appeared in China, and the market application of AGV has been greatly developed. As a flexible automation equipment, AGV application scenarios are diversified: from a single handling carrier to intelligent sorting equipment, assembly tools, service tools, etc. AGV continues to innovate in navigation and guidance technology, and has developed satellite navigation based on Beidou positioning system, wireless navigation based on UWB wireless positioning, natural (contour) navigation based on SLAM algorithm, and two-dimensional code navigation based on image recognition. The emergence of these new technologies has made the application of AGV more diversified, and the application industry has become more and more extensive. For example, heavy-duty container handling AGV appeared in Shanghai Yangshan Port, automatic parking robot appeared in Nanjing Confucius Temple, and some e-commerce companies , Express delivery companies have applied sorting robots, and the domestic development of the AGV industry has shown a gratifying situation. According to professional media reports, China's AGV market maintained a growth of more than 25% in 2016.

3. Future development trend

With the disappearance of my country's demographic dividend and rising labor costs, the only way for companies is to increase the effective production rate, that is, the degree of automation of production. Market development and the diversification of user needs are bound to put forward higher requirements for logistics robots.

In terms of palletizing and depalletizing robots, fully automatic hybrid stacking and picking will be the focus of technological development, which involves technologies such as image recognition, stacking three-dimensional planning, and more adaptable fixtures. The application of these technologies can greatly increase the scope of robots, thereby improving the efficiency and automation of the logistics system.

Ten years ago, because there were very few people who knew AGV, the author was still using the example of "taxi" to popularize AGV knowledge. But today, the AGV industry has made great progress in the country: domestic enterprises have continuously improved their independent innovation capabilities and have got rid of their dependence on foreign technologies and products. Limited to professional knowledge, the author combines my own work experience to focus on my understanding of the development of automated guided vehicles (AGV) technology.

In the traditional handling market, AGVs are often used for material handling between storage and production lines. As users continue to deepen their understanding of smart factories and digital factories, due to the demand for production technology, production management and product quality, the correlation between the AGV system and the overall production process layout has increased. Therefore, in the research and development of the AGV upper system, more attention should be paid to the research on the user's production process, production management, logistics management and quality management, so as to effectively improve the user experience. The upper system must strive to be easy to configure, easy to manage, and easy to maintain. . In combination with user workflow, system scheduling should also consider task optimization and path optimization as a whole. For example, some systems do not necessarily require the fastest response to tasks. Should you consider task accumulation? After statistical significance is obtained, task optimization should be performed, so that the system has the opportunity to select the most suitable vehicle to perform the most suitable task, thereby improving the overall system operating efficiency and Reduce energy consumption, this optimization effect is better than the simple "shortest path time" effect. At present, the development of domestic AGV stand-alone technology has become mature, whether it is "wired guidance" or "wireless navigation", it is not difficult for AGV to operate according to instructions. The author believes that the future technical development of AGV stand-alone should be heavier, more stable, faster, and more accurate in positioning. The application will be oriented to more complex and dangerous special environments (nuclear environment, explosion-proof environment, high and low temperature environment, outdoor environment, etc.), using hybrid guidance/navigation methods, increasing guidance/navigation redundancy, and improving the safety of stand-alone operations Sex and reliability.

In 2015, with the rapid development of e-commerce and express delivery industry, a new favorite of AGV appeared on the market-intelligent sorting robot. The emergence of the Amazon KIVA robot has made the domestic e-commerce and express delivery industry recognize AGV and realize the application value of AGV. Sorting AGVs mostly use ground tags (similar to traditional rectangular coordinates) and inertial navigation, differential drive, simple and reliable driving mode (straight, spin), single machine control is not difficult, but due to the large scale of use, the upper-level scheduling system is difficult Larger. Limited to industry characteristics, such products require high operating efficiency, high reliability, and high safety. The author believes that the "goods-to-person" sorting mode of the e-commerce industry is the key to the statistical analysis of big data by the upper-level scheduling system, which can determine the optimization of the physical location of the goods and the optimization of customer orders, and finally the task and path of the AGV optimization.

At present, a composite robot for sorting has appeared on the market, that is, loading a manipulator on the AGV, which can directly go to the shelf to pick goods, changing the single "goods to people" mode. This will again be a revolutionary technology. It fully embodies the characteristics of "perception, decision-making, and action" of intelligent equipment. Since the selected items have no fixed rules, materials, sizes, and weights are very different, the realization will be very difficult, but it is still worth researching and developing. new technology.

Unlike the e-commerce industry, the express industry’s requirement for AGVs is to sort materials directly to designated locations. It can be seen in the video that appeared in the media that the system is loaded by manual scanning code, so that the AGV is bound to the material to obtain the target unloading point; the unloading ports are grouped by express area, and the AGV can drop the goods to any unloading port in the same group ; The collection of materials in each group of unloading ports is finally completed by the conveyor belt. In this way, the AGV scheduling strategy is relatively simple, and the efficiency of operation will be much improved. With the advancement of technology, whether AGVs can directly and automatically complete the loading in the future and whether they can directly complete the material collection work will require more effort. We will wait and see.

Another "new favorite" in the market is the intelligent parking robot system for parking lots. Under the guidance of "Internet +" and big data policies, intelligent parking robot systems have become an important part of smart cities.

Technical development and application of robots in the warehousing field

Shanghai Yifeng Parking AGV

In essence, this type of AGV is not much different from other omnidirectional AGVs in terms of control, but it has its particularity in application. The investor’s pursuit of the number of parking spaces is the biggest constraint of this type of application. Focus on reducing the operating space of the AGV and give the space to parking spaces. Therefore, the single AGV must be extremely cautious in the choice of navigation mode, driving mode, and loading mode. The ultimate goal is to win enough operating space for the AGV stand-alone under the premise of increasing the number of parking spaces as much as possible, thereby improving the operating efficiency of the entire system. The upper-level dispatch system must be deeply integrated with the parking lot WMS system; and the WMS system needs to be integrated with big data to analyze the behavior of car owners and arrange parking spaces reasonably. In terms of higher-level scheduling technology, it is necessary to study the scheduling mode of parallel operation of "double-deep" or "three-deep" parking spaces; study the different path allocations of "no-load" and "full-load"; and study the number of parking peaks and valleys and AGVs. Correlation statistics and so on. In the stand-alone control technology, it is necessary to carefully compare the advantages and disadvantages of various guidance methods; compare the degree of influence of different loading methods on the operation efficiency of the AGV; make a reasonable choice of the AGV walking mode, etc. The reliability, safety and efficiency of the future system are the key to the success or failure of project applications. Whether it is mechanical design, electrical design or software design, the principle of "simple and reliable" should be followed. Therefore, the author believes that the simple and reliable guidance method that allows the no-load AGV to pass freely should be more worthy of attention.

4. Development bottlenecks and suggestions

Although my country has made great progress in logistics robot technology, there is still a big gap in technology maturity and application adaptability compared with industrialized countries. We must realize that the technology of China's logistics robot industry is still relatively weak, and many key components still rely on imports. Taking multi-joint robots with more than six axes as an example, more than 90% are still imported from abroad. With the rapid development of e-commerce and express delivery industry, more and more people choose to shop online, and the market has put forward more and higher demands for the application of warehousing and logistics robots. How to break through the technical bottleneck, accelerate the development of my country's logistics robots, and improve their application level has become a further problem to be solved by the domestic robot industry.

It needs to be pointed out that the reason why my country's AGV industry has not fully grown up is that there is a mixture of fish and dragons, and users have low recognition of product functions. The key is that product standards are lagging. Although the country has issued relevant standards, they are not compulsory standards, but recommended standards, which are in vain and are not conducive to the development of market norms.

In addition, the lack of talents is also an important factor restricting the development of my country's logistics robot industry. Since most of the staff in the logistics industry have not been tested by the complexity and difficulty of the project, they lack a deeper knowledge and understanding of logistics robot technology. Therefore, more professional R&D personnel and designers are needed to promote the development and application of logistics robot technology.

Challenges and opportunities coexist. Although AGV has developed in China for more than 20 years, issues such as product standards, product quality, and after-sales service have been plagued by the industry. The author hereby makes a few suggestions for the development of domestic logistics robots, especially the AGV industry: First, the development of the industry requires more professionals, and increasing the training of professional and technical personnel should become a long-term plan for universities and enterprises; second, common Establish the AGV product standard system and quality system to maintain the hard-won AGV market; third, under the same product standard system, jointly establish a complete after-sales service system; fourth, gradually carry out industry segmentation and increase The generalization of AGV special devices will increase the generalization of software platforms; fifth, standardize industry publicity and improve users' awareness of AGV products.

When Premier Li Keqiang mentioned "improving the quality of consumer products" in the 2016 "Government Work Report", he emphasized the need to "cultivating the spirit of craftsmanship for excellence". "Craftsman spirit" is the persistent concept of carefully crafting products and striving for perfection. The AGV industry needs this "craftsman spirit"!

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