What Is Material Handling Automation?

Automated material handling uses robotics and AI for manufacturing.
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In 2021, the estimated market for material handling automation topped $42.9 million. The compounded annual growth rate is due to rise by more than 12% in the next five years.

Automated material handling (AMH) takes today’s technology and builds a system that flows smoothly through the use of AI and robotics. The goals of AMH are to reduce error, increase production rates, and eliminate the possibility of injury. It frees up staff to take on other roles within your company, while others will train and become specialists in the equipment that keeps your distribution center, transportation hub, manufacturing plant, etc. moving smoothly.

The Seven Areas of Material Handling

Material handling automation requires systems that interact flawlessly to make sure materials move fluidly from one process to the next. It gets materials through your plant or warehouse and out to consumers or businesses in record time. Even adding one section of your plant with automation can make a big difference. What are the seven main areas of material handling automation?

  1. ASRS

ASRS stands for automated storage and retrieval systems. It’s a must for any company that is pick and pack or pick and place. ASRS equipment is responsible for storing, handling, and retrieving items that are needed for the manufacturing and distribution process.

When you order from a major online retailer, ASRS systems know exactly where that item is located and uses robotic arms and conveyors to get the items from the racks to the packaging area where items are packaged, labeled, and readied for shipping.

  1. Conveyors

Conveyors are recognizable to everything. They are the belts or systems that move products from one area to the next. Often, they do not need interaction from workers. Robotic arms can deposit items on the conveyor and computers turn the belts or rollers to get the item moving to the next location.

Every conveyor system needs controls that help stop lines, slow them down, or speed them up. It all comes down to the conveyor’s job at that moment and whether something has gone wrong in another area and a brief pause is necessary.

  1. Cranes

Heavy, bulky items may require more than a robotic arm to move them around your plant or distribution or transportation center. When items are too heavy for robotic arms, cranes are one of the best solutions. If you have a heavy item like a section of a modular home, it’s carefully prepared using heavy-duty strapping that surrounds and supports it. The top rings of those straps are attached to a crane and moved from one area to the next without damaging it.

Cranes move items up and down, but the crane arm can also swing around in an arch. You might want a crane to lift one section of a modular home to the next step in production. A crane makes easy work of that task.

 When trucks deliver goods, cranes make unloading heavy items so much easier to manage. If you own an appliance manufacturer, sheets of stainless steel weigh a lot more than your human workers can handle. A crane makes easy lifting of the materials you need to the beginning of your production line or from a dock to a boat or train car.

  1. Hoists

Like cranes, hoists are designed to move larger materials. They lift and lower heavy materials in a vertical position, but the hoist can also move back and forth across a track or bridge to move from one area of your facility to another. They use torque, anti-sway technology, brake settings, and load-sensing technology to move heavy loads without error or injury.

  1. Palletizers

Palletizers and stackers help your plant or distribution area with two things. First, boxes or stacks of materials can be stacked by robotics and AI onto pallets, wrapped in waterproof wrapping, and readied for transportation. It’s fast, efficient, and exact.

There are also pallet stackers that take empty pallets and stack them quickly and efficiently until you need them. If you get goods in on pallets, set up a conveyor to deliver pallets to the pallet stacker and eliminate the need to have forklifts or people doing this.

  1. Robotics

At the heart of all material handling automation are the robotic devices. These robotic arms can pick up, drop off, and manipulate items in seconds to make sure everything is in the precise positioning you need.

  1. Sortation

Automated sortation is a must if you’re aiming for speed and precision. Imagine that jar full of coins you’ve collected over the years at home. You have to separate the pennies from the nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars. It takes a lot of time, and it’s exhausting. Now, imagine how much faster it would be if you had scanners and sorters that did the work for you.

That’s the benefit of sortation technology. The AI can sort package sizes and pack precisely to fill boxes perfectly. It’s like a game of Tetris done in seconds.

How It All Comes Together

Xpeng Motors offers one of the best examples of a fully automated manufacturing plant. The plant manufactures electronic vehicles in its 3,000-acre factory. There are 600 engineers and 264 robotic machines. These robots work in five areas.

The first area is the stamping workshop where they stamp out the steel plates at a rate of 12 pieces per minute. One robotic arm picks up a steel plate and moves it to each machine to have the steel shaped, cut, and shaped to form the appropriate section of the car’s body. Conveyors and robotic arms keep the components moving to the next workshop.

Once the plates are readied, they’re taken to the welding workshop. There the metal frames are welded, glued, and riveted together by robotics to form the vehicle body. Being fully automated, the machine uses 30% less energy than traditional methods. Again, robotic arms and conveyors move them to the painting workshop.

In the painting workshop, the body is then painted in eco-friendly paints. As robotic painting systems are precise, there is less paint waste, which reduces wastewater, energy, and no released pollutants.

The final stage is to add the battery packs, again something robots are able to do with the help of a highly tuned visual system that correctly identifies the exact location each battery pack must be positioned. Once batteries are in place, the car battery packs are tested to make sure they’re working properly.

At this point, the system becomes a mix of robotics and humans for the final assembly of things like tires, brakes, and critical tests and inspections before the vehicles are transported to dealers and consumers.

Build a Customized Material Handling System With Mitsubishi Solution’s Help

Your plant may not need all of this, but the ultimate goal is the same. You want to speed up manufacturing, packaging, distribution, etc. You want to get items/materials out of your plant as quickly as possible and into the market. Automated material handling is one way to do this.

Every company’s needs differ, so you cannot expect to find a one-size-fits-all solution to your automation needs. Mitsubishi Solutions provides solutions that are effective and efficient for your material handling automation needs.

Our automation experts work with you to create a customized plan that fits your budget and provides the efficiency and output you’re aiming for. Talk to our sales team to learn more about material handling factory automation solutions.