It’s hard to believe we’re just a few months away from MODEX 2024! With only two years of experience in the supply chain field, it will be my third major show I’ve attended — the first two being ProMat 2023 and MODEX 2022.
Perhaps it’s because I still consider myself to be new to the industry, but I’m really excited to see what’s on the floor at the Georgia World Congress Center in March 2024. I was wowed by the significant technological advances that happened between my first and second show experiences. Particularly in robotics.
Although the supply chain industry as a whole may have slowed down a bit over the last several months, most ProMat exhibitors continued to focus on helping facilities overcome the ongoing labor shortage issue. Booths showcased automated solutions — specifically robotics — to help warehouses, distribution centers, fulfillment operations, and parcel handling facilities reduce their dependence on manual material handling.
There were plenty of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) rolling around exhibits. But what really caught my eye was the number of item picking robots on display. Picking eaches has historically been one of the most labor-intensive tasks in an operation. No technology has been able to reliably pick individual units better than us highly adaptable, super dexterous humans.
But this year — based on the number of robotic picking arms on display — the tide seems to have turned. There were still plenty of larger-scale robotic arms picking up cases of product to build palletloads. However, there were also many smaller-scale robotic arms picking up individual items and placing them in cartons or totes to simulate filling an order. Many were shown in goods-to-robot workstations fed by automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) that could also be staffed by human personnel.
The robotic picking technology that truly caught my eye (and many, many others’ eyes as well) was the Digit robot from Agility Robotics. These robots resembled people, with a very familiar human form: two arms and two legs, connected to a body, with a neck and a head — with illuminated blinking eyes! At ProMat, Digit robots walked on their own two feet and used their hands to pick and place totes as they worked autonomously in a simulated warehouse.
While they weren’t picking individual items, it’s not a stretch to imagine that they probably will be at MODEX 2024. By the way, I wasn’t the only show participant captivated by the Digit robots. MHI, sponsor of both ProMat and MODEX shows, awarded Agility Robotics with their annual Best New Innovation Award.
It’s interesting to consider how unusual it was to see a mobile robot in a human form. While I didn’t get a chance to chat with anyone from Agility Robotics at the show, it seems that their goal is to create a solution that works with a facility’s existing systems, equipment, and processes. That is, if an operation can’t hire enough people to do the job and has to supplement its workforce, the humanoid robot can fit right into the same role with no modifications. The same can’t be said for a robotic picking arm.
Perhaps Digit’s form factor is also more familiar and less intimidating to current workers. We’re all aware of the droids in Star Wars. Working next to Digit likely won’t feel far removed from working next to C3P0. And, speaking of familiar, Boston Dynamics again displayed their four-legged Spot mobile robot used for automating routine data capture, tracking, and quality inspection tasks. It resembles man’s best friend, which is particularly comforting if you’re an animal lover.
While it was the robots that really captured my attention at ProMat, there were many thousands of other technologies and solutions on display. My other key takeaway was how enormous the material handling field is, and what an exciting time it is to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see what’s on the show floor at MODEX 2024. The DCS team will be there in force, exhibiting in Booth B3819. Be sure to pay us a visit.
What technologies are you looking forward to seeing at MODEX in March? Connect with us and let us know.
Author: Hannah Stone, Project Buyer, firstname.lastname@example.org