One of the salient trends in logistics over the past five years has been the transformation of both operations and strategy by digital technology.
For example, warehousing is now driven by a combination of data capture and robotics. Materials handling has also changed, especially within warehouses, although not so much in terms of unloading trucks or aircraft. The nature of operations has also evolved. E-retail has amplified the need for picking faces, especially in terms of picking individual items for despatch and loading them into customer-facing packaging.
The velocity and volume of these operations present very significant problems for any logistician. The labour costs are substantial and the opportunities for error are significant. What is really needed is greater automation.
Intel thinks that they have at least part of the solution. They have developed what they call “RealSense Dimensional Weight Software” which is in fact a combination of a ‘LiDAR’ (Laser) camera and software that calculates the size of any package. This enables to operator to “scan and calculate the measurement and volume of an object in seconds” and then to communicate this data into the wider warehouse or transport management system. This enables much quicker decision making around the operation of, for example, making-up pallets, loading trucks or locating stock keeping units in warehouses.
At the core of the system is the combination of better quality laser imaging that can – if Intel is to be believed – perceive the edges of an object almost immediately, combined with a piece of software than can comprehend the image and turn it into an expression that can size the object. The software can then direct either a human or a machine to pick the items.
It is of course unknown how well this technology will work in practice. However, what it illustrates is that in key areas of manual judgement and decision making automation is increasingly an option. At present, material handling operations tend to require a high degree of predictability, usually demanding some form of packaging that makes any automated system able to interface with items. The technology Intel has just released offers the potential to at least semi-automate a number of different processes that at present are largely manual, notably picking items but also unloading vehicles with non-palletised loads or making up pallets.
One of the key tasks of contemporary warehouse design is to deploy these capabilities in order to deliver higher productivity.
Source: Transport Intelligence, October 15, 2020
Author: Thomas Cullen
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