John Chamberlain
Developer Diary
 Developer Diary · You Heard It Here First · 27 November 2003
Automated Storage Systems
Reporting from the front line of robotics development

Automated storage systems may be boring but they are the meat and potatoes of robotics and their surging evolution is changing the way America does business. The warehouses of our country have long been a backwater of low-wage hindrances to progress but automation is swiftly changing that. Turnaround and shipping times are decreasing almost by the year because of the shift from manual to automatic warehousing and shipping. When I was a kid every catalog you ever saw said, "expect 4-6 weeks for delivery". Many still do, but not all. A variety of operations are shortening their delivery times and building products faster because of automated storage. The most common places automated storage is found is where the items are too large or dangerous for humans to easily handle. So if you are moving large steel rods with lifts anyway, it's an obvious step to automate the lifts. The same goes for warehouses that contain big uniform boxes or pallets. Give the forklift a brain and everything speeds up. Another area where automated storage systems are common is wherever large numbers of small valuable objects need to be moved around methodically. An example is drug development laboratories and factories. Thousands of samples need to stored, brought out and tested, then stored again--a perfect application for an automated storage system.

A whole industry is springing up to develop and supply automatic storage systems. The periodical to read to follow this business is Modern Materials Handling. MMH recently published an interesting article titled 22 New Ideas in Automated Storage. This article gives you a great sense for how fast this technology is developing and the wide impact it is having on business. Virtually any business that deals in physical goods has a handling and storage requirement. How efficiently it is carried on has a ripple effect on many other businesses as well. For example, the faster a metal supplier can fill an order to a car manufacturer the cheaper that car will be and the better able the manufacturer is to increase or decrease production as needed.

Most people think of robots as creature-like droids, but pickers and smart conveyor belts and other handling systems are the real meat of robotics.

Developer Diary · · bio · Revised 27 November 2003 · Pure Content