Supply chain to value chain with robotics and AI – Michael Kemeny

@AuManufacturing has partnered with the upcoming Modern Manufacturing Expo in Sydney in September which will showcase How Robotics and AI Can Turn Supply Chains Into ‘Value Chains’. Here we talk with Michael Kemeny of KNAPP Australia.

In a crowded global market manufacturers are always on the lookout for technologies that will give them an ‘edge’ – with Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) increasingly being viewed as the key to unlocking Australia’s manufacturing competitiveness.

However, there is still something preventing the use of robotics in manufacturing from reaching its full potential: a knowledge gap among Australian manufacturers on how best to approach this highly specialised field.

“Your first port of call should be a robotics specialist with a proven track record who can provide a fully integrated robotics solutions,” said Michael Kemeny (pictured, below), Managing Director of KNAPP Australia, a provider of intelligent end-to-end automation solutions.

“Many robotics start-ups lack experience in defining efficient workflows and processes for controlling their AMRs and the necessary communication between the AMR, the WMS (Warehouse Management System) and WCS (Warehouse Control System).

“This communication is essential to control factors such as route planning, pick path planning, order batching, and order release and start.

“If this communication is not in place, AMRs will travel unnecessary distances and lose much of their efficiency and performance, resulting in more equipment and higher costs.”

KNAPP is determined to close the AI and robotics knowledge gap that exists within the Australian manufacturing sector, and the company plans to share the wealth of information it has gathered over the years as at the Smart Manufacturing Conference at the upcoming Modern Manufacturing Expo on 20 September 2022.

KNAPP’s automation solutions and a range of similarly innovative, future-thinking technologies and Advanced Manufacturing techniques will be on show at the Modern Manufacturing Expo from 20-21 September 2022 at the Sydney Olympic Showground.

KNAPP got involved with the Modern Manufacturing Expo because of their desire to bolster the manufacturing industry who can greatly benefit from accessing information about supply chain improvements.

“The upcoming Expo is the perfect platform to share our insights into how robotics can help supply chains transform into value chains.

“The shift to prioritising value chains has the potential to increase a manufacturer’s Unique Selling Points (USPs), strengthen their value proposition and grow their competitive advantage.”

Robotics and the creation of a value chain

A supply chain refers to the process between producing and distributing the product, dealing with the suppliers and logistics of getting the product to market.

Value chains, however, involve the same steps as the supply chain but ensures that all activities are designed to maximise the competitive advantage of the manufacturer.

So how do robots fit in to all this?

Robotics and intelligent automation improve the visibility of the supply chain by automating inventory processes. This is crucial because accurate stock data can be the difference between winning and losing a customer.

Other ways in which integrating robotics and automation along the supply chain can maximise value include:

  • AI can be used to connect robots all over the globe and transfer learnings and process adaptations across different manufacturing plants and warehouses
  • Robots can provide the necessary accuracy and efficiency to cope with rising e-commerce deliveries and sales and provide more resilience and agility
  • And transport tasks can be optimised using robots – specifically AMRs. AMRs combine advanced sensors, AI and machine learning algorithms to bring more flexibility to transport tasks. They react in real-time and adopt route planning to navigate manufacturing facilities efficiently.

Here, Michael offers a note of caution: “AMRs offer manufacturers numerous benefits and promise more flexibility in the supply chain, but how and where they are used in your enterprise must be considered carefully.

“A good example is a case where AMRs take up a lot of floor space in storing and retrieving goods in a goods-to-person picking environment – but the area directly above them in the facility, right up to the ceiling, is wasted.

“Therefore, they might not be the right tool for this environment and a waste of expensive real estate space.”

Humans and robots working together

While ‘where’ AMRs are placed is an important consideration in creating an efficient value chain, ‘how’ they are used is equally important.

Kemeny said: “Traditionally, companies have used robots and automation to reduce headcount.

“But this should not be their true purpose as it will only alienate your human workforce. We believe that humans and machines do not compete, but rather complement each other.”

The new generation of AMRs use AI to navigate factories, pick items and find the most intelligent way to collaborate with people.

One of the top benefits of robotics in manufacturing lies in automating manual movements.

Human operators are only allowed to handle around 15-25kg based on health and safety regulations and can become fatigued when performing manual labour.

AMRs however, can easily manipulate more weight and move goods faster and more accurately than humans, keeping the flow of goods moving through the facility.

They can also curb the health and safety risks of people handling heavy loads and performing repetitive tasks.

“It’s still crucial to remember the human advantage: people are able to respond quickly and flexibly to new requirements in ways that robots cannot.

“But together, humans and technology make a great team for implementing logistic requirements in the most effective and efficient way. The use of AI opens up the range of applications for AMRs, turning them into high-performance, economical assistants.”

To get this balance right and use the power of robotics and AI to its full potential, it is essential to choose the right automation partner – someone with an understanding of supply chain processes and robotic software to most efficiently use the knowledge, products and combinations of robotics and automation to optimise the whole supply chain.

“The step from supply chain to value chain is possible, and robotics can enhance your operation and help create a competitive advantage.”

The Modern Manufacturing Expo takes place from 20-21 September, 2022 at the Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush. It is designed for key decision-makers and management looking to explore the latest automation and digital offerings for future growth and features a showcase of technology advancements to innovative operational practices for manufacturers. Free Expo Registration here. Enquiries: Margo Metcalf IEC Group, [email protected] or 03 95969205.

Pictures: Knapp Australia/Robotic picking/Michael Kemeny

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