Order picking robots: Everything you need to know (2024)

March 26, 2024
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What is an order picking robot?

An order picking robot is an automated system used in warehouses and distribution centers to pick and sort products for orders. These robots follow programmed routes to locate, grab, and transport inventory around the warehouse.

A few common types of order picking robots include:

  • Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) - Self-driving robots that can navigate warehouse aisles to pick up and transport inventory.
  • Articulated robotic arms - Robotic arms with multiple joints that can extend, retract, and rotate to grab inventory from shelving, much like a human arm. Often mounted in one location.
  • Automated Storage and Retrieval (AS/RS) systems - Computer-controlled systems with cranes that automatically load and unload inventory from high-density shelving. The shelving and inventory move to the operator.
  • Mobile picking robots - Self-driving robots with an attached robotic arm to pick inventory while navigating the warehouse. Combines the benefits of AMRs and articulated arms.

How do order picking robots work?

Wondering how these incredible machines operate? 

Let’s take a look: 

  • The robots follow algorithms and instructions provided by warehouse management software. The software tells the robot which items need to be picked for each order. The robot then plots the most efficient path to locate each item.

    It navigates to the correct aisle and shelf, scans the shelf to find the item, picks it up, and places it in its onboard storage area or tote.
  • Order picking robots are designed with efficiency in mind. They can pick items faster and more accurately than people, plus they don’t get tired or distracted, so they maintain a consistent picking rate. They’re also able to lift heavy and awkward items that could cause injury to human pickers. 
  • The robots must integrate with the warehouse’s existing management systems, like the warehouse management system, inventory system, and order management platform. The systems provide the robots with the information they need about what items are stored within the warehouse. 

    The robots also provide data back to the systems, like reporting which items have been picked for each order. 
  • Proper precautions are still extremely necessary. Warning signs should always indicate that automated robots are in use. Aisles and pathways must be clearly marked so the robots can navigate efficiently and safely. Protective barriers should prevent the robots from colliding with humans or infrastructure. 
  • Sensors, emergency stops, and proximity detection help the robots avoid collisions and stop operations if an unexpected obstacle appears in their path. With the right safety measures implemented, order picking robots can operate autonomously without being a danger to workers or inventory.

What are the most common use cases for order picking robots? 

Retail and ecommerce? You’d better believe it

One of the most common applications of order picking robots is in retail and ecommerce warehouses. As more people shop online, the demand for quick and accurate order fulfillment has gone through the roof.

A big plus is that robots can pick items for multiple orders simultaneously, helping retailers keep up with the high volume.

For example, many major retailers like Walmart, Target, and JD.com use autonomous mobile robots and automated storage and retrieval systems in their warehouses to handle thousands of orders each day.

The food and drink industry is eating robots up

Perishable goods have a short shelf life, so speed and precision are absolutely necessary. 

So, robots can work continuously in refrigerated environments to pick items like meats, dairy, and produce.

For instance, grocery delivery services like Ocado and Kroger use automated systems to fulfill customer orders in their warehouses. Robots ensure orders are picked and delivered fresh.

The pharmaceutical industry loves robots too

Pharmaceutical companies need stringent controls and compliance to handle sensitive drug products properly.

Order picking robots provide highly accurate picking with full traceability. They minimize human error and maximize consistency. 

Top drug makers such as Johnson & Johnson have deployed automated storage and retrieval systems and autonomous mobile robots in their distribution centers to pick pharmaceuticals for hospitals, pharmacies, and patients.

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Why even automate your logistics? 

Automating your warehouse logistics with order picking robots can have surefire benefits for your business. 

Think of the time and money you’ll save by streamlining one of the most labor-intensive parts of your operations. 

Here are the straight facts: 

  • Order picking robots can work nonstop, which will skyrocket productivity. They don’t take breaks, call in sick, or mess up. A single robot can pick up to 1,000 items per hour with near-perfect accuracy. This allows you to fulfill more orders at a faster rate without additional hiring. 
  • Replacing human pickers with robots significantly cuts costs. You’ll save on wages, benefits, and worker’s compensation claims. Maintenance and energy costs for robots are also lower than human labor expenses in the long run. These major cost savings drop straight to your bottom line as increased profitability.
  • Robots follow instructions to the letter, so they pick the correct items for orders with an extremely high degree of accuracy. This minimizes costly errors like picking the wrong products, quantities, or packaging. 
  • As your business grows, order picking robots provide a scalable solution. You can easily add more robots to handle increased order volume without having to hire and train additional staff. Robots also operate at a consistent level of speed and accuracy even during peak periods.

    This scalability ensures you have the necessary resources to fulfill orders no matter the season or circumstances.
  • They have an outstanding ROI of just 1-3 years. 

How to get started with order picking robot deployment 

Before deploying an order picking robot in your warehouse, there are several factors to give some thought to.

Here’s what you need to understand before you deploy your first robot: 

  • Worker safety should be top of mind when introducing robots. Conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify any hazards, like heavy equipment or narrow walkways, and implement proper safeguards. 

    You’ll also want to train workers on how to safely interact with and work around the robots. The good news is, many robots are built with safety mechanisms like emergency stops, motion sensors, and protective cages or covers. Some don’t even need protective barriers at all. 
  • In some cases, you may need to install supplemental equipment to effectively deploy picking robots. This could include guide wires or magnetic tape along the floor to help with navigation, charging stations, or modifications to your racking or conveyor system.

    Before you purchase, it’s best to discuss any installation requirements with robot vendors to understand the full scope of work and costs.
  • With many robot options on the market, choosing the right one can make or break your automation efforts. Compare different models based on payload capacity, battery life, navigation technology, and integration requirements. You’ll also want to give some thought to the vendor’s experience, customer service, and support capabilities. 

    Once you’ve made your choice, you can schedule product demos and pilot programs to test it in your own facility before full-scale deployment. You can never be too careful. 

Summing up

Order picking robots have huge benefits for warehouse operations and inventory management.

Whether you need to boost productivity, improve accuracy, or scale for growth, these handy robots can get the job done. 

The hardest part is choosing the right bot for your needs and integrating it into your workflow without breaking the bank. 

But once you take the plunge into automated order fulfillment, you'll be amazed at the efficiency gains!

Next steps

Eager to enhance your order fulfillment process? RO1 by Standard Bots is a revolutionary order picking robot designed for SMEs and large-scale enterprises alike.

  • Cost-effective innovation: Priced at just half of what you'd expect for similar technology, RO1 makes advanced automation accessible to businesses of every size.
  • Setting new benchmarks: With its capability to handle an impressive 18 kg payload and unmatched repeatability, RO1 outperforms its rivals in speed and accuracy.
  • Built-in safety protocols: Equipped with sophisticated sensors and safety features, RO1 guarantees safe collaborative operations.
  • Evolving through AI: RO1 uses its advanced AI, on par with GPT-4, to understand its operating conditions, effortlessly adapt to new tasks, and enhance its performance over time.

Enjoy a complimentary 30-day trial and discover how RO1 can transform your order picking operations. Our dedicated support team is ready to assist you with the smooth integration of RO1's advanced functionalities into your shop floor.

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