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Automate Detroit: Four Automation Trends that are Impacting Picking and Packing

The labor market may be looking a little rosier, however, shortages are still very much an ongoing issue for many warehouses.

According to FANUC, an industrial robotics manufacturer, there are approximately 1.9 jobs per unemployed worker in the United States. Why? Well, e-commerce is still creating strong labor demand across all areas of the supply chain. To add to that, U.S. businesses are reshoring their sourcing to domestic suppliers in hopes of combating the long overseas lead times; all of which means the creation of even more job openings across North America.


These ever-present trends are setting the stage for substantial growth in automation, but what does automation truly mean? In the world of pack and ship, it could translate to higher throughput, standardization, labor reliability, and the luxury of reallocating existing talent to other key areas of the warehouse. So how is that achieved? What technologies are out there to augment the operations that are so incredibly important to the success of a company?


Pregis attended Automate in Detroit, MI last week, and returned with a wealth of innovation trends that are adding value within the fulfillment centers of so many industries – from third-party logistics to retail.


Timely Takeaways from the Event


1. Picking and packing goes autonomous: The days of workers wearing out the warehouse floor as they transport goods from inventory to the packing area are numbered. Robotics manufacturers, such as Fetch (now owned by Zebra technologies), are now offering automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and automated mobile robots (AMRs) that autonomously transport goods from storage to pack stations. From there, workers are able to conveniently take those products and place them in a shipping box, along with protective packaging, or drop them directly into a mailer or a polybag, where equipment can be used to automatically open that bag, seal it and a print a shipping label on pack at the touch of a button. Robotic arms can even be used to insert the aforementioned goods directly into the box or mailer, so warehouses can then redeploy packers to other instrumental areas of the facility.


2. Machine vision & artificial intelligence: Software and hardware capabilities within the optics space are beginning to reach sci-fi levels. Sophisticated cameras and intelligent algorithms are bringing to life the pick and pack scenario mentioned above – programming the picking robots to confidently navigate the warehouse space, and the robotic arms to tactfully pick up and pack items for shipping.


3. [Insert technology] as a service: Software-as-a-service (SaaS) has been around for a while, but now, technology companies are leveraging this business model for varying forms of technology – one of which is robotics. Why? because it is allowing companies – especially smaller ones – to hold onto their capex, and instead, pay a much more manageable fee to incorporate automation into their warehouses. That automation can then be test driven to see if it’s a good fit and demonstrate the invaluable ROI it can bring to the table.


4. The rise of integration: As businesses increasingly adopt autonomous equipment, internet-of-things (IoT), and warehouse management systems (WMS), integrators are emerging as key partners. These companies serve as the quarterback or maestro for a business’ warehouse. Their role is to design, implement and maintain the living, breathing ecosystem of technology that serves as the heartbeat of a fulfillment center. In turn, this frees up the internal bandwidth of an organization, so they can focus on their core competencies.


Looking for more information on packaging automation, and how these solutions can have a profound impact on your operations?

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