Warehouses play a critical role in supply chains across industries. Over the decades, they’ve become more efficient, driven by consumer demand and changing technologies. Today, warehouse automation is the most defining feature of modern warehouses, making systems more efficient and processes more streamlined. With small optical components like encoder discs playing fundamental roles in this automation, the future of warehouse automation and efficiency looks bright.
Overview of the Warehouse Automation Market
It’s no secret that warehouse automation is at a turning point worldwide. In large part, this is due to increased manufacturing needs, lingering COVID-19 protocols and system changes, consumer demand, and unstable employee retention. The perfect storm of these factors has led to supply chain as a service (SCaaS) models with warehouse technology innovations at the forefront.
Recent reports show that the warehouse automation systems market has a projected value of $93 billion by 2031, with North America holding the majority of the market share. As warehouses see the value of more automation, larger corporations are beginning to adopt it throughout all systems. One case study of this is DB Schenker, a leading global logistics company that “represents one of the largest AMR deployments of its kind in Eastern Europe.” And it’s not just big corporations. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are beginning to integrate automation as they see the potential impacts on their business models and workforces.
Despite warehouse automation being viable in some form since the 1960s, this rapid growth presents a big opportunity for companies to integrate new technologies that take their businesses further. Whatever your industry may be, if you decide to adopt this automation, you’ll need precision components to make systems more responsive, accurate, and reliable.
The Small Components Making a Big Impact
To scale your business for success as demand increases you’ve likely considered (or already integrated) some form of automation. While autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are the most common and scalable, optoelectronic components are responsible for precision automation across form factors.
Optical encoders were traditionally used for line-of-sight sensing that worked best in controlled operating environments (like assembly devices and machine tools). As the demand for automation in the warehouse grew, optoelectronic components have had to evolve to be more versatile and withstand imperfect conditions. Photo Solutions has been at the forefront of that evolution in the encoder component industry.
We provide precision components for common warehouse automation applications that include:
- AMRs: As one of the most popular robots, they typically use laser guidance and GPS to safely and efficiently navigate through complex warehouse environments.
- Automated Sortation: Robots that identify conveyor items by barcode scanner and sort where they need to go.
- Pick-By-Voice: Automated systems that use voice recognition software to eliminate the need for handheld barcode scanners.
- AGVs: Autonomous guided vehicles in the warehouse use sensors to chart their path through complicated layouts.
Photo Solutions has over 30 years of experience supplying optical encoder discs and scales to various industries. Our fastest-growing applications include automation for warehouses that make the systems and processes more efficient, precise, and controlled. We do this with the following products:
Encoder discs have been one of our specialty products since we opened our doors in 1989. Although we fabricate discs in diameters of 5mm to 600mm, the design and form factor is entirely client-driven. We manufacture onto glass, quartz, film, and aluminum and can complete composite configurations easily installed in your facility.
Rotary encoders provide warehouse robots with essential information to move about their environment. Depending on your exact automation needs, you’ll likely need an absolute or incremental encoder.
Absolute Encoders: By generating digital codes to measure actual position, absolute encoders can help with height determination for lifts, position instruments, and position rotary indexing tables for different types of production.
Incremental Encoders: These encoders generate pulses to measure direction, speed, and relative position. Incremental encoders can help with steering angle on AGVs, linear measurements, and rotational speed direction.
View the tech sheet here.
Linear encoders, or encoder scales, measure linear movements of objects via sensors. Like our discs, we manufacture our scales based on client-provided form factors and designs. We can manufacture scales in lengths of 2mm to 800mm on glass, quartz, film, or aluminum. We can additionally complete special composite configurations depending on your warehouse automation need.
The marked lines on encoder scales are read within optical systems to ensure correct measurement performance. While linear encoders are most frequently used in CNC systems and assembly equipment, their primary function is to provide position feedback and large-scale precision. As with linear encoders, absolute and incremental options determine relative positioning, but there are also two main types of scales:
Absolute Linear Encoders: These determine the current position of the reading head for systems where accurate and specific displacement is necessary. These include milling machines, hydraulic cylinders, and linear actuators.
Incremental Linear Encoders: These determine position offset to specific and relevant points to encode location information where a particular angle isn’t as critical. These include stepping motors, grinding machines, and cranes.
Optical Linear Encoders: Most commonly on glass or steel, optical linear encoders use photoelectronic sensing of the scale and scanning reticle.
Magnetic Linear Encoders: Using magnetic tape and a scan head, magnetic linear encoders gather position information on the tape in sequential code.
Hub and Disc Assemblies
Although not as commonly applied to automation in warehouses, hub and disc assemblies have potentially large future impacts on the industry. By applying hub and disc assemblies to warehouse automated systems such as AMRs, AGVs, and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), they can increase speed and overall efficiency.
At Photo Solutions, we tolerance our Swiss screw machined hub bores at +.0005”/-.0000 with the disc pattern concentricity to <.001.” This means unmatched precision for your component and automated technology. As with our other optoelectronic components, we manufacture to exact specifications.
View the tech sheet here.
What’s The Future of Warehouse Automation?
As we said in the beginning, warehouse automation is a booming market. As your company grows, you may need more automation to keep up with demand and compensate for a changing workforce. Trends and case studies from this past year indicate future automation use—all of which require precision components. The most interesting trends we’re seeing include automation connected with the IoT, automated cleaning machines, automated storage and retrieval, and collaborative robots.
However, the following case studies show the most promise as real-world applications of these components driving innovative automation in warehouses.
Robotic Case Handler
Mujin, a robotics solutions provider, recently released its robotic case handler. Its QuickBot is positioned as the “simplest way to automate a warehouse’s receiving operations.” It also boasts easy installation, real-time motion planning, and on-the-fly case recognition. Their goal is to achieve faster, better, and improved working conditions.
Sparrow Robotic Arm
Amazon’s “Sparrow” robotic arm is another incredible case of innovation. The advancement uses computer visualization and AI to move products of varying shapes and sizes before they’re packaged. While the arm can currently identify 65% of Amazon’s inventory, its overarching goal is to improve workplace safety and productivity.
In addition to the Sparrow robotic arm from Amazon, the company also has the Hercules as part of its warehouse automation fleet. The robot navigates structured fields, communicates with other robots and humans via WiFi, and safely responds if the electricity goes out.
Item Sorting Robots
Startup Ambi Robotics recently raised $32 million to deploy its item-sorting robots to fulfillment centers. Dex-Net, as it’s called, uses deep learning and AI to scan, pick, sort, and place millions of different objects. Additionally, these sorting robots can work in cluttered work environments like conveyor belts and bins.
Warehouse Automation Made Better With Photo Solutions Components
Whether you’re looking to integrate warehouse automation systems for the first time or upgrade your AMR fleet, Photo Solutions components are designed for precision engineering solutions. As demand continues to increase for innovation across verticals—including that in warehouses—we will continue to meet the needs of our customers. Let’s get started.