If you read our blog regularly, you’ll know that we are crazy about the rise of AI and robotics designed to make warehouse workers jobs easier and more efficient; so when the team at the Australian Centre For Robotic Vision were crowned winners of the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge – we had to get in touch.
During the 4 day event, 16 teams from around the world were put through various challenges to test their abilities, despite being in 5th place before the final round – the team’s robot, Cartman aced the last challenge to become the victor, walking away with a cool £60,000 cash prize for the team (enough to build 3 more Cartmans!)
The team and Cartman have received national coverage since their victory at the challenge held in Japan, so we were thrilled when we were given the chance to talk to Juxi Leitner - leader of the robotics vision team, to get the lowdown on their winning robot and the future of AI in the warehouse.
Personally, I think the biggest challenge was to get the undergraduate students up to speed on computer vision, robotics and machine learning. For the hardware side, you have to iterate often and quickly, trying to really come up with something better every week.
For me, with a computer science background, one of the biggest fears was that somehow the robot would be damaged during transport and not work in Japan (We had a funny incident with that last year in Germany...)
Mechanically, we were the only team with a Cartesian (linear) robot solution. This helped us move complexity from algorithms into mechanical systems (motion planning for arms is hard). We were also able to leverage the fact that we built both the hardware and software stack from scratch with integration - that is real Robotic Vision, not just computer vision on a robot.
Team-wise, we had a lot of fun, had chats with everyone and generally seemed like we enjoyed ourselves. Some of the other teams were very... focused.
Blood and sweat :) No, seriously it takes a good team to iterate and build things quickly. A specific solution, will be more cost efficient than a generic arm in a lot of situations.
The most expensive parts were the motors; the rest was aluminium extrusions, 3d printed parts and such. Why did we keep it so low? We didn't have more money from the universities ;)
Well, that's a bit of a loaded question. But I think tying in with what I said above, thinking of solving specific problems with a specific solution allows us to be efficient and really get into the details of the problems.
We are certainly talking to people in the industry and seeing where we can create tangible outcomes. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw variants of Cartman solving some tasks in warehouse/logistics applications in the near future. (Interest seems to be there, funding needs to be clarified).
On the other hand, there is more research that needs to be done, both on the robotics and the AI side, if you watch some of the videos of the run there is very limited "intelligence" in Cartman.
Don't get me wrong, it’s state of the art classification but there is very limited reasoning. Further research on more general robots is also required, if used the right way, these do make sense for tasks - in the long run that is.
One of the hardest challenges Amazon have encountered in their fulfilment centres is developing a robot that can do the job of ‘picking’, this involves identifying objects that have been ordered and loading them into a container or similar to be shipped off.
The reason this is no easy feat is due to the complex mix of object recognition, grasp and motion planning to avoid damage to stock, task execution and error detection and recovery should a mistake be made.
Despite this fantastic victory, Cartman is just the start of robotic pickers and is still a long way off being able to replace a human doing the same job.
Once again, we’d like to thank Juxi for talking to us and wish the team and Cartman huge congratulations and every success in the future from all the team at Bristol Storage!
Running out of space is one of the most common problems warehouse managers run into when they are in the process of expanding. The first thought many have is to buy more space – but this isn’t always necessary.
Running out of space can encourage bad practices in storing stock – leading to damaged inventory, missed orders and potential injuries.
In this post, we’ll run through a couple of procedures you can put in place and products you can implement to maximise space in your warehouse without the need for expensive extensions.
Most warehouses are not configured with much thought to future expansion, which can lead to chaos when the time comes. If you feel like you may run out of space soon or are already pushing against the walls of your warehouse, put some time aside to consider a new layout for your warehouse – this will take expert planning and may cause some down time so it's best done when you are experiencing a quieter period.
When was the last time you carried out a full audit of your inventory? Carrying too much stock or keeping stock that you no longer sell takes up valuable space. Conduct a full inventory audit and determine what stock you have in comparison to what you need, then move any surplus into storage.
Almost all problems a warehouse manager encounters can be solved in some respect by properly training staff. If you have worked hard to maximise the space in your warehouse but your staff are unaware of racking weight limits and thus under loading them – your efforts will be wasted.
Training your staff to be more aware of the space available to them in racking and the warehouse, in general, will ensure that they are working with you and not against you to save space. Additionally, keeping your warehouse staff happy and motivated is a great way to encourage a good work ethos to ensure no space is wasted.
Instead of building out, build up! There are a number of solutions available to save you money by taking advantage of the unused vertical space in your warehouse:
Narrow Aisle Racking – Narrow aisle racking is taller and a lot narrower than conventional racking, it is a great way to get the most out of your space when used in conjunction with specialist narrow aisle forklift trucks.
Mezzanine Flooring – Mezzanine flooring gives you the space you need at a fraction of the cost of expansion with prices starting from just £55 per square metre. Mezzanine flooring is commonly used to create office space and extra storage.
Temporary solutions such as shipping containers are a low-cost space solution; they can be particularly useful to store any surplus inventory you may have ordered in when preparing for a busy period such as Christmas.
If you are looking for a more permanent solution, a temporary warehouse or storage marquee is a lower cost alternative to expansion and perfect for dealing with excess stock during busy periods.
How much space is being wasted by under loaded or poorly loaded pallet racking? Ensuring that your pallet racking is loaded properly allows you to save space and load as much stock as safely possible. Be sure not to overload you racking, this can lead to racking damage and potential collapse.
Be sure that both you and your staff are aware of the maximum load your pallet racking can safely take by displaying weight load notices where appropriate.
As you can see, there are several measures you can put in place to maximise the space you have available without having to invest in a costly expansion.
If you need any help reconfiguring your warehouse layout or want to find out more about the space saving products available give one of our expert team a call on 0117 955 5211 and we’ll be happy to help.
Sulzer Ltd. is a Swiss industrial engineering and manufacturing firm, founded by Salomon Sulzer-Bernet in 1775 and established as Sulzer Brothers Ltd.
1 no. Single Entry Rack comprising 1 Bay as above.
1 no. Rivet Workbench with MFC Worktop
If you’re looking to improve the organisation and efficiency or your work environment but struggle with space, it might be time you considered Mezzanine Flooring.
Whilst a fantastic solution for a wide range of commercial, industrial, and retail premises there are a number of regulation and health and safety practices both employers and employees should be aware of.
We’ve discussed these below, so read on for more information or contact our specialist team for your mezzanine flooring.
A little cramped for space? Struggle to find inventory and stock at the snap of a finger? If so, its time you invested some thought into reorganising your warehouse or other commercial property.
Think of it like this; would you really expect an office employee to work productively and efficiently if their desk was piled high with papers, accessories, and folders? No.
Equally, you and your employees can’t run efficiently if the organisation and planning behind the scenes isn’t optimised to allow staff to do so. Quality mezzanine floors can benefit you in a number of ways including:
According to the Health and Safety Executive falls from height contribute as a significant cause of injury. Whether risks from low height or the more obvious risk of falling from a distance, mezzanine flooring is a common area of concern.
As such, employers should take this seriously and assess their workplace, workforce, and the procedures in place. Employees have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and others but it is ultimately down to you as the employer to ensure everyone complies with Health and Safety duties which generally include:
The team at Bristol Storage have more than 40 years of experience in the industry with a specialist team who can supply, fit, and design mezzanine flooring for your premises.
So, whether you’re looking for extra-storage, mezzanine floors for offices, or multi-tier mezzanine flooring we can help.
Interested? Give us a call on 0117 955 5211 for more information on how to maximise space for your business.
Castle Dairies is 'the home of Welsh Butter'. Established as a milk bottling dairy and Caerphilly cheese maker, a family run business thats been churning cream for 40 years.
Bristol Storage Equipment Ltd were originally invited in to this new customer to carry out a SEMA Rack Inspection. Following an inspection it was established that due to the bad condition of the existing drive in racking system, the best way forward would be to replace it with brand new Dexion racking. This would also generate spare materials to carry out rack repairs in other areas of the site which also had some damages.
Dexion P90 Drive In Racking - Perfect for Freezer Or Warehouse - Call now 0117 955 5211 or email email@example.com
Recently we wrote a blog covering why you should not get your pallet racking repaired, the point of this post was to highlight the fact that in some cases, attempting to repair pallet racking that is in need of a replacement can make it even more dangerous to your employees and inventory.
The most effective way to save money on pallet racking repairs and replacements is to put measures in place to prevent them becoming damaged in the first place.
Find out more about how you can prevent damage to your pallet racking to avoid costly and potentially dangerous damage to your racking system.
Training is key to preventing any accidents or damage in the warehouse, here are a few topics you should cover when providing training to your employees in order to prevent damage to your pallet racking:
Vehicles such as forklifts are the kryptonite to the structural integrity of pallet racking. When the pressure is on and time is of the essence, operatives may collide with pallet racking accidentally – whilst it may only look like a dent, it can be the start of an entire pallet racking collapse.
Assessing your warehouse layout in order to widen your aisles is an effective way to reduce damage to racking, but can require a large amount of time and planning, with a complete reconfiguration of your warehouse sometimes being necessary.
If you aren’t in a position to redesign your warehouse layout, along with clear notices, coloured tape can be used to discourage drivers from getting too close to the racking.
Investing in guards and frame protectors for your pallet racking is one of the most cost effective ways to prevent damage to your racking. These guards start from as little as £20 and provide robust protection from forklifts and other moving vehicles.
Overloading pallet racking is a leading cause of racking failure and collapse, and yet it is one of the most preventable. The capacity of your racking depends on a number of factors, if you’re unsure about the weight limit of your racking, we can calculate it for you.
Keep shelving weight load notices present where possible and be considerate of these limits when changing the load of the racking, if you think your pallet racking has been overloaded we recommend having an inspection carried out, whilst it may seem to be in good condition there could be unseen damage to the structure.
Not only are racking inspections a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, they also help in identifying any damage to pallet racking that you may not have been aware of. As well as annually, rack safety inspections are recommended where visual or structural damage to pallet racking has been observed.
If you are having your racking inspected by a third party company, it is your responsibility to ensure that they are competent and working safely throughout the inspection. For this reason, we always recommend using a SEMA approved inspector to carry out inspections.
The more your warehouse operatives can see, the better they can perform. Implementing effective warehouse lighting throughout your premises allows drivers to see clearly what they are doing and reduces the number of accidental damage to racking.
Additionally, implementing speed limits throughout the warehouse and convex mirrors can cut down the number of vehicle collisions in your warehouse.
Faulty and damaged pallet racking is not an issue to ignore, not only can a racking collapse cause loss of revenue, but it can also lead to serious accidents and injury to your workforce.
If you’re concerned about the condition of your pallet racking, or want to book in for a racking inspection, give one of our expert team a call on 0117 955 5211.
We’re halfway through 2017 now so you’ll probably have a good idea of how well your operations are performing in line with your start of year targets. Are you doing well or do you need to need to shake up your processes to get back on track?
Whilst we strive to fill our blog with useful resources for warehouse and logistics managers, there are hundreds of useful other blogs out there. To save you scouring the web, we’ve compiled a list of 7 must follow warehouse management blogs to check out (in no particular order!)
Shelving.com are a shelving supplier based in Michigan USA offering storage and shelving products in the US and parts of Canada for both commercial and home. Their blog focuses on health and safety, making the most of space in the warehouse and maximising efficiency.
Whilst Reddit is technically a forum rather than a blog – we thought it deserved a spot in our top warehouse management blogs post.
Reddit is an absolute goldmine of information if you know where to look – the focus of this sub-reddit is inventory management and control, transportation & distribution and services that support warehouse operations.
Link bait blogs and answers that wholly promote to a single service or product are prohibited from this sub-reddit so you won't be inundated with businesses trying to sell to you.
As well as being able to source useful information and ask questions in these sub-reddits – it’s a great place for businesses to show their expertise, with questions regularly being asked by warehouse managers.
Which warehouse are a logistics company specialising in sourcing warehouse storage space and logistics services for clients in the UK and Ireland. Their blog focuses on logistics trends, warehouse efficiencies and chain management efficiencies and trends.
Westfalia are a provider of warehouse solutions based in Pennsylvania USA, with a specialisation in providing automated storage and retrieval, self-storage, and order fulfilment solutions. Their blog focuses heavily on automation and automation trends but also features blogs aimed at warehouse managers.
Commercial Warehousing are a warehouse logistics company based in Florida USA, their blog is updated frequently and is split into various categories including warehousing, transportation, technology and packing.
Warehouse Rack and Shelf are suppliers of material handling and storage products to distributors and retailers based in the USA. Along with their insightful blog, they have an ask an expert feature which allows you to send your questions directly to them.
Last but not least on our list is RFgen, providers of mobile and wireless automated data collection solutions for WMS and inventory management solutions. Their blog focuses on supply chain management and warehouse automation and efficiencies.
As you can see, there are countless useful resources online for warehouse and logistics managers. At Bristol Storage (aside from our useful blog), our expert team are always happy to share our expertise, advice and recommendations in any area of warehouse management, racking, storage or operations you may have questions about.
Just give us a call on 0117 955 5211 or fill out a contact form and we’ll get back to you.
Improving efficiency and reducing costs – it puts a smile on our faces and it’s something that every warehouse manager wants to achieve. The best part, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Whilst you may attempt to reduce costs by using second hand pallet racking, logistical and safety issues can arise from this. If an employee is injured, not only will you lose the savings you made by buying second-hand racking, but if your employee requires time off, that’s your efficiency gone too.
On the other hand, sure, automated robots can run 24-hours a day, but they are going to cost big. Additionally, without the right balance of human workers to ensure the robots are working efficiently, it’s Terminator waiting to happen, right?
In this post, we’ll run through a few ways you can reduce costs and improve the efficiency of your warehouse.
One weak link in your chain and the whole process suffers. Analyse your process to find room for efficiencies, are you making the most of your space? Is your warehouse using the best drop off and loading process? Do you have enough storage for surplus products – maybe you have an excess or storage space?
Rather than just looking at it from a management point of view, talk to your employees and team leaders to find out where they think room for efficiency lies in their relevant roles and departments.
Nothing is as inefficient and costlier than an unsafe warehouse. In 2015/6, there were 4.5 million working days lost due to workplace injury, around 20% of these were manual handling related injuries and 19% from slips and trips – we understand that some injuries are unpreventable, but there are several things you can do to keep these numbers down.
Here’s a couple of our top tips for keeping your warehouse an injury free-zone
The layout of the warehouse is one of the most important factors in keeping it efficient and ensuring that your warehouses’ layout maximises productivity ensuring more work gets done.
If you’re certain your layout is optimal and think you’ve reached the maximum space in your warehouse, look up! Rather than spend on costly expansions to your warehouse, make better use of your vertical space.
There are several products designed to make the most of existing space, for example, narrow aisle pallet racking systems and multi-tier mezzanine floors that allow up to 3 floors - effectively trebling your workspace.
New technologies are constantly being developed to increase efficiency in the warehouse, ensuring you stay on the lookout for advancements in these new methods keeps you competitive and gives you the opportunity to be at the forefront of warehouse efficiency.
This doesn’t mean replacing your entire workforce with automated machines, but incorporating this technology into your existing workforce to do tasks that can be competently and more efficiently done by automated technology, these could include, picking, storage configuration and packaging.
The key to a truly efficient warehouse is a happy one and job satisfaction has a direct correlation with motivation and output of work. Here are a few ideas for keeping your employees happy in the warehouse:
So there you have it, increasing your warehouse efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean increasing your costs. If you need a hand getting your warehouse up to scratch, we can help. Whether it’s inspections, new pallet racking systems to maximise your space or information on how to keep your workers safe; give us a call on 01179 555 211.
Wait, what? And no this isn’t a ploy to get you to purchase brand new pallet racking from us. We’ve seen an influx of companies offering ‘pallet racking repairs’ for serious damage, with warehouse managers opting for this cheaper option and putting their workforce and inventory at risk.
Of course in some cases these remedial repairs will suffice in making racking safe once more, but there are numerous scenarios whereby a replacement is the only real option.
Find out more about the dangers of having your pallet racking repaired as opposed to replacing it, as well as how you can extend the life of yours.
In some cases, such as scuffs, chips, other cosmetic faults or in a situation where the lower-tier of the racking has only seen minor damage, a repair can be the most appropriate solution. However, you should always consult an expert before deciding which route to go down.
Scenarios where a replacement is essential include:
Trying to repair these serious issues by yourself is a bad idea and poorly repaired racking can lead to injuries, inventory loss and work stoppages – costing you a lot more than replacement racking.
In an ideal world, warehouse managers would keep their pallet racking well maintained and avoid having to pay for repairs or replacements. There are a number of steps you should take to ensure you get the most out of your racking:
Protect them from bumps – Pallet racking may take the occasional bump from a forklift or other vehicle in the warehouse. You can implement racking protection at a low cost to take the brunt of these hits. Additionally, introducing flooring tape to cordon off the racking will discourage workers from driving too close to the racking.
Don’t overload – This may sound obvious, but often warehouse managers and employees will ignore the deflecting / bending of the racking’s beams until it’s too late.
Avoid DIY – By carrying out DIY on your racking, your putting yourself and your employees at risk. If you notice an issue with your racking, have it inspected by a professional who will recommend the best course of action for you whether that be a repair or replacement.
Train your staff – Providing your staff with rack safety awareness training makes them more conscious of the issues that can arise from poorly maintained racking, as well as training them on how to prevent damage to the racking and why it’s so important to report any damage they cause or notice.
Plan for growth – If you are experiencing a period of growth, be sure you properly prepare for it. Implement additional racking systems where necessary to avoid putting your existing racking under a workload it cannot handle.
Inspect regularly – Regular pallet racking inspections mean you can catch damage early, this might mean for a quick and easy remedial repair as opposed to a replacement down the line.
Pre-used pallet racking often comes at a very desirable price tag, and may even look the part. But often you will find the problems hidden by a lick of paint will cost you more in replacements down the line. At a glance, some of the most common problems with second-hand racking include:
In addition to these common problems, second-hand pallet racking will rarely come with a guarantee. Check out our blog post on second hand racking for our full analysis on the dangers of compromising on quality to save money.
Ensuring regular inspection of your pallet racking is a legal requirement, and can ensure flags any deterioration is flagged up early so you can revoke the problem before it becomes a serious issue – eliminating the need for replacements.
As a SEMA Distributor Company, we are able to carry out comprehensive reports on all makes of pallet racking and shelving systems. Give us a call today on 0117 955 5211 to book yours.
Did you ever see Westworld? The 1973, sci-fi set in your not so typical amusement park where the rich get to live out their fantasies though artificial consciousness. You know, the one where in the end the robotic “hosts” malfunction and take over the park spreading chaos and fear.
It is clear that the fear of robotics integrating into everyday life is nothing new; something science fiction authors have predicted for years. Although not quite as dramatic, the real fear is that they aren’t, in fact, coming for you, but for your jobs.
But in actual fact, it is likely that advancements in technology and automating jobs within the workplace can benefit businesses and employees alike. But how, we hear you say. Find out below:
Some may say that implementing robotics in warehouse operations is nothing new, after all “dumb robots” have been used for some time now for performing repetitive tasks.
However, many are converting to improved automation in an attempt to stay competitive or to gain an edge over competition. As such we are seeing – from businesses at least – a widespread acceptance and presence of robots in warehouses and logistics operations. In fact, Tech Republic suggests that chain operations will go from 40,000 units (2016) to a projected 620,000 by 2021.
It seems that increasingly companies are coming to the conclusion that “hybrid” scenarios make a lot of sense whereby workers effectively manage, programme, and maintain robots across the warehouse in order to improve both productivity and performance.
In effect, a factory or warehouse that saves money on labour through automation will lower prices which make its products more appealing and creates an increased demand that may lead to the need for more workers. In turn, a greater profit will enable the pay of higher wages.
If you’re still not convinced just take a look at those who are already doing it;
Over the last three years, Amazon has increased the number of robots working in its warehouses from 1,400 to 45,000. Over the same period, the rate at which it hires workers hasn’t changed.
Some have suggested that robots help Amazon keep prices low which means that the company needs more people to man its warehouses even though it requires fewer human hours of labour.
A Massachusetts-based start-up developed a new multi-robot fulfilment system at the facility of its development partner, Quiet Logistics. The robots and warehouse associates work together in a manner designed to reduce travel time and increase productivity.
Associates scan items and place them into totes that are transported by the robots. They autonomously navigate through the warehouse infrastructure along with others in the fleet.
In its Hampshire distribution centre, traffic management systems are in place to help with every day activity. Instead of all the conveyors, cranes, and big machines they instead have swarms of robots collaborating with one another to collect customer groceries and bring them to the point where they’re picked.
It is clear that technology is radically changing the way in which we can expect to work. Whether you’re adopting full automation or indeed pallet racking, mezzanine floors, or workbenches, make sure you get in touch with the team.
Give us a call on 0117 955 5211 for more information.