Honeywell has unveiled its latest innovation in robotic technology designed to help warehouses and distribution centers automate the manual process of unloading pallets, reducing the operational risks of potential injuries and labor shortages.
Driven by sophisticated machine learning and advances in perception and gripping technologies, Honeywell’s Smart Flexible Depalletizer minimizes the need for manual labor to break down pallet loads – roles that carry risk of injury to labor, experience high turnover and are currently difficult to staff.
A typical medium- to large-sized distribution center unpacks up to several thousand pallets per day, with the probability of errors, injuries and worker fatigue increasing during each shift.
Dr Thomas Evans, chief technology officer of Honeywell Robotics, says: “Even when manual operations are running smoothly without injuries, the physical, repetitive task of unloading pallets is variable and limited by human constraints.
“Our Smart Flexible Depalletizer helps improve throughput by operating consistently without interruption over multiple shifts with minimal human interaction.
“With the labor constraints warehouses and distribution centers are seeing in filling these manual roles, this solution can be an ideal fit to help keep up with daily order volumes.”
The depalletizer’s articulated robotic arm is guided by advanced vision and perception technologies, which allow cases to be picked from a single- or mixed-SKU pallet on a fixed or mobile location.
The latest computer vision technology identifies the exact location of every case on the pallet, while perception software automatically recognizes a wide variety of packaging.
This technology allows for seamless handling of a continuous flow of pallets in any sequence without requiring any pre-programming or operator intervention.
The advanced machine learning and motion planning optimizes the movements of the robotic arm to ensure maximum picking speed and efficiency. The control logic also senses the weight of each item as the robot lifts it and automatically updates its gripping response to transfer each product securely and effectively. The more the solution picks, the more it learns and continues to improve in quickly and efficiently unloading pallets.
Evans says: “Reliable depalletizing rates are of growing importance as consumer preferences continue to accelerate the rate of packing and the increasing product mix warehouses and distribution centers handle every day.
“These major technology improvements are driving fully automated solutions capable of meeting or exceeding the throughput of manual operations. Not only do these solutions offer significant benefits to modern distribution centers and other fulfillment operations, the business case for their utilization is also increasingly attractive.”
A recent Honeywell study revealed more than half of companies are more willing to invest in automation because of the pandemic and its lasting effects. The same study showed companies see increased speed of tasks, greater productivity and increased employee utilization and productivity as the top three potential benefits from automation.
The robot can work in conjunction with pallet conveyance autonomous mobile robots, enabling continuous operation of the system while providing the flexibility to stage pallets and empty stacks virtually anywhere the robot is capable of traveling.