Automated Material Handling in Logistics

The warehouse is the major area of material handling in logistics and also a prime consumer of labour. The labour force is required for loading, unloading, storing, picking and packing of materials. This is a major cost component in the warehouse expenses. Hence, there is scope for automation in material handling, which reduces the intensity of labour and increases labour pro­ductivity in the system. In large warehouses with high throughputs, manual material handling will increase the order performance cycle time and ultimately lead to customer dissatisfaction and loss of competitiveness in the market. In these circumstances, automation is a must. Another area for automation is where handling of hazardous material or handling of material in a hostile atmosphere where there is a great risk to human life. The following systems are in use for such applications:

1. Automated Guided Vehicle System (AGVS)

This system makes use of the magnetic or optical guidance system. The magnetic system uses an energized wire laid on the warehouse floor for guiding material-handling equipment. In the case of the optical system, the light beam focusing on the guide path propells and guides the equipment. In AGVS the role of operator is eliminated. The new-generation AGVS are guided by video and do not follow the fixed path. They are smaller in size and flexible in operations.

The AGVS can perform all material-handling operations without any human involvement. The robot coupled with AGVS is used to pick up precisely the material required for a customer order. The robot is a human-like machine that can perform a variety of tasks. The robots can be programmed by a built-in microprocessor for performing many different tasks in the warehouse. The material-handling complexity in terms of load and variety depends on the capability to incor­porate artificial intelligence in the system. In high-rise or multi-storey warehouses, the automated high-rise storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) are in use because of the greater attention to auto­mated unit load handling in high-rise warehouses. This equipment operates at a speed range of 300-400 ft/min horizontally and 100 ft/min vertically.

2. Information Directed System

This system keeps all equipments in the warehouse under the control of a centralized computer. The required movements are fed into the computer for analysis and it assigns the jobs to the indi­vidual equipments, considering their maximum loading capacity and handling speed. The com­munication between the equipment and the computer is through radio frequency. These systems can perform a variety of complex material-handling jobs such as multiple order picking or mul­tiple vehicles loading by the same material-handling equipment. This system ensures a substantial enhancement in warehouse productivity and flexibility in handling a variety ofjobs. However, this concept is a recent development and is still in the testing stage.

Source: Sople V.V (2013), Logistics Management, Pearson Education India; Third edition.

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