Benefits of AI-driven automated depalletizing systems
What is depalletizing?
Depalletizing refers to the process of unloading bags or boxes from a pallet. Items on these pallets are generally closely stacked or overlapping and can even weigh over 25 kilos. Traditionally, this physically enduring process was performed by humans undertaking strenuous physical activities, such as heavy lifting, bending, and stretching repetitively. Due to the uninterrupted nature of this activity and physical exertion, automation has proven to be the solution that provides a twofold benefit, both to workers and companies.
Main benefits of depalletizing:
- Safe working environment
- Low turnover rate
- Streamlined process
Safe working environment
As with any logistics company, the hazardous nature of its operations contributes to a relatively high accident rate. In fact, according to the Health and Safety Executive, 52,000 workers were suffering from work-related ill-health. These human workers at risk cost companies injury claim expenses, safety training, and legal compliance costs, ultimately leading to a high turnover rate. More jarring were the 11 fatal injuries with 13% resulting from being struck by a moving/falling object. Depalletizing can cause similar problems, jeopardizing the safety of many workers. This energy-draining task can prove to be dangerous, especially when handling objects weighing over 20 kilos. Automating this process, however, provides a much safer working environment.
Due to the rise of e-commerce in 2020, variation of Stock Keeping Units (SKU) skyrocketed. The need for manual labor in United States' warehouses rose to $1.2 million amidst the ongoing pandemic. Manual pickers were forced to work overtime and were under constant pressure to lift objects of all sizes, shapes, and loads. Social distancing and quarantine measures proved to be another massive roadblock for companies, adding up to an existing labor shortage issue.
Whether a company is handling mixed-SKU pallets or multiple pallets of the same SKU, automated robotic depalletizing can enhance productivity, reduce operating costs, and create a safer working environment. Simultaneously, the warehouse staff have an opportunity to be relieved from chronic illnesses, injuries, and other health detriments that have resulted from this strenuous activity. Automating the depalletizing process can reap the company the benefits of both artificial and human cognitive intelligence.
Low turnover rate
Companies automating their depalletizing processes can expect a low turnover rate. In simple terms, they employ robots that neither stop nor get exhausted. A vast underlying problem, however, is the miscommunication between employees and companies, when it comes to the pros and cons of such automated solutions. A study showed that more than 70% of Americans expressed concerns that robots would replace them. These workers are unaware of the numerous advantages automation provides, and in many cases, their jobs will not be lost but rather re-adjusted. Compared to warehouse staff, robust depalletizing cells in warehouses can efficiently utilize the designated area, both the floor and vertical space. It accelerates the overall performance by enabling manual workers to focus on other value-adding tasks.
Robotic depalletizers today feature 3D vision systems and a gripper for pick-and-place depalletizing operations. They consists of multiple cameras, vision software, and laser sensors. Such a system captures the environment while also calculating the coordinates of randomly placed objects. It allows the robot to scan each object, recognize their pick point, and place them on a conveyor belt, offering a robust solution to picking and placing unknown objects of various heights. The depalletizing cell can also recognize a box with tapes as a single item rather than six separate boxes. Deploying cutting-edge vision software improves the accuracy of segmenting objects, enabling the robots to pick objects of various sizes from a random stack. Some vision software allows for object segmentation and classification to handle objects differently while performing quality controls.
Robots can effortlessly unload overlapping items or shiny objects, thanks to AI-driven vision technology and machine-learning algorithms. Such advanced vision software allows a robotic depalletizer to seamlessly handle a continuous flow of mixed-SKU pallets in any sequence.
The vision software segments the item, classifies it, and proposes over 100 grasp poses each second, based on the trained neural network, enabling robots to move faster in challenging environments. Broadly, it alleviates common manual handling mishaps, while also maintaining a predictable throughput rate.
Overall, automating the depalletizing process is not as elusive as it was before. Thanks to deep-learning algorithms, warehouses can now employ a suitable robotic depalletizing cell with a cutting-edge vision system and an appropriate gripper to lift the heaviest of objects. These modifications will improve the overall work environment for staff and provide a flexible automated solution to the exceptionally dynamic logistics industry.
About the author
Fizyr, based in Netherlands, designs, builds, installs, and maintains a vision software product for automated picking and placing in harsh logistics environments.