The vision of lights-out warehousing – soon to be a reality?

The next generation of robots will be smarter, more flexible and more powerful. The more these autonomous assistants can do, the closer we come to the possibility of a fully automated warehouse with zero human participation. The robots execute complex processes independently, adjusting instantaneously to new shapes, surfaces and products – and could make lighting completely unnecessary.

A lights-out warehouse is the realm of robots. In this advanced facility, all tasks, such as transferring, gripping, sorting and loading, are performed automatically. These “workers” will be able to perform ghost shifts without any human intervention – and without the need for artificial light. Because autonomous vehicles, robots and co. are able to navigate their surroundings and avoid collisions even in the dark, by means of cameras and sensors.

Greater mobility in warehouses

Dematic is a pioneer in this space. The world’s leading provider of integrated automation technology has been working full-out for many years on its vision.

“Current technological developments offer us the opportunity to plan the entire goods process completely differently,” states Crystal Parrott, Vice President of the Robotics Center of Excellence. “Warehouses were static for a long time. That is no longer the case. Everything is becoming modular, everything is becoming mobile, in line with space and needs.”

This vision is brought to life by AGVs, s (automated mobile robots) and ASRSs: The autonomous devices retrieve and put-away goods, move them from A to B, and pick and sort items irrespective of their shape, surface or material.

This technology is fast, flexible and agile, and very much attune to the needs of our times, helping companies cope with growing challenges. Customer requirements can change at a stroke, there can be sudden unanticipated peaks in demand – and this is not simply a consequence of the global coronavirus crisis. It has been a result of the rapid growth and flexible nature of e-commerce per se. This has led to changing warehousing needs – and automation is often the answer.

Autonomous, automatic and breath-takingly fast

End-to-end connectivity is essential to lights-out warehousing. A key step in this direction is the new voice and data transmission standard 5G. This is designed to empower Industry 4.0, allowing machines to communicate continuously in real time. A fully automated, fully connected warehouse accelerates processes, increases efficiency and speed, and offers a way out of the skills shortage.

However, even though robots are able to work on their own, this new type of warehouse will still need some involvement on the part of flesh-and-blood people. However, they will undertake very different roles: they will monitor and supervise, and assume responsibility.