Honeywell Launches Robotic Technology to Automate Warehouse Processes

Honeywell’s new Smart Flexible Depalletizer promises to make warehouses safer and more efficient for workers.

Honeywell’s Smart Flexible Depalletizer uses machine learning technology with advanced depth perception and sensing. (Image courtesy of Honeywell.)

Honeywell’s Smart Flexible Depalletizer uses machine learning technology with advanced depth perception and sensing. (Image courtesy of Honeywell.)

Warehouses might not be classified as critical national infrastructure, but it’s hard to argue against the fact that commerce would grind to a halt without them—especially with the exponential growth of e-commerce powered by Amazon Prime and its guaranteed two-day shipping. Few people think about what happens between the time they press the order button on their favorite website and walk to the mailbox two days later to pick up their package, but the stress and pressure to continue delivering packages at a breakneck pace takes its toll on the warehouse workers tasked with making sure our boxes are shipped on time. Typical warehouses break down thousands of pallets per day, which subjects workers to near-constant exposure to injury, specifically repetitive use and strain injuries from performing the same motion over and over all day long.

Manufacturing titan Honeywell hopes to help change that and bring increased safety and efficiency to the warehouses that power commerce across the globe. Honeywell’s innovative streak and desire to improve workplace safety for warehouse employees led to the creation of the Smart Flexible Depalletizer, a robot capable of stepping in and performing the grunt work of unloading pallets.

Powered by machine learning, advanced depth perception and gripping technology, Honeywell’s Depalletizer can work through a continuous stream of pallets filled with mixed-SKU or single-SKU packages without requiring preprogramming or an operator guiding it through its tasks. The robot allows warehouse operators and owners to lower their labor costs, keep their workers safer, increase depalletization rates, and overcome worker shortages and shift changes—all without sacrificing productivity or operational flexibility. The depalletizer is also capable of working in conjunction with Honeywell’s autonomous mobile robots to speed up pallet staging and the emptying of stacks.

When asked to describe the benefits of his company’s new technology, Thomas Evans, chief technology officer of Honeywell Robotics, said, “Even when manual operations are running smoothly without injuries, the physical, repetitive task of unloading pallets is variable and limited by human constraints. Our Smart Flexible Depalletizer helps improve throughput by operating consistently without interruption over multiple shifts with minimal human interaction. With the labor constraints warehouses and distribution centers are seeing in filling these manual roles, this solution can be an ideal fit to help keep up with daily order volumes.”

The advances that Honeywell will bring to the warehouse setting have been powered by improvements in machine learning and artificial intelligence that make the robotic movements faster, more precise and optimized. Honeywell’s vision and depth perception software is able to accurately locate every case on a pallet. The machine learning algorithm allows the robotic arm to sense how much each case weighs and adjust its grip strength for each individual product to ensure that it is transferred safely. Over time, the robot will continue learning how best to move and pick objects, becoming more efficient in the process.

“These major technology improvements are driving fully automated solutions capable of meeting or exceeding the throughput of manual operations. Not only do these solutions offer significant benefits to modern distribution centers and other fulfillment operations, the business case for their utilization is also increasingly attractive,” Evans explained.

Automation continues to revolutionize the warehouse, creating an environment where human workers and robots work in tandem, with the robots continuing to absorb more of the repetitive tasks, opening the door for human workers to utilize their talents in a safer and more effective manner without slowing down the speed of operations on the floor. Warehouse work can be back-breaking labor, and the more that robots can bear the brunt of that load, the better. Honeywell’s robotic depalletizer offers a win-win solution for the logistics industry and the workers who power it.