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When Warehouses and Robotics Meet

Warehouse robot

With just a few clicks, online shopping can gratify almost all our consumer desires. It's effortless, at least for us. For the warehouses and distribution centres processing our purchases, it's a constant race against time. The solution: mobile robotic systems that promise to optimize picking, sorting and storing times. But with innovation comes risk.

Robotics safety was the subject of a session at WSPS' Warehouse Safety Conference. WSPS Machine and Robotics Safety Specialist Robert Vomiero briefed delegates on the industry's transition from traditional warehousing to on‐demand distribution centres.

High-tech solutions being implemented in distribution centres include:

  • mobile robots that collect goods for packing. They include, smaller self‐guided vehicles, large mobile platforms with high payload capacities, and mobile manipulators (mobile robots with a robotic arm)
  • high density pallet storage and retrieval systems
  • advanced sorting conveyor technology
  • industrial robots capable of working side‐by‐side with humans
  • drone technology for inventory counting and product mapping.

Implementing these innovations can improve safety by reducing the risk of traffic injuries, and repetitive strain injuries and overall demands human workforce, but they can also introduce new risks, such as:

  • contact/collision injuries caused by unpredicted movements, malfunctions, or deviation from programmed travel paths
  • crushing and trapping injuries
  • hazards associated with products being handled or transported, including the release, tipping or falling of product handled robot, or the failure of a gripper mechanism or end-effector
  • incidents involving electrical and pressurized fluid hazards.

How to build safety in from the beginning

  1. Get to know applicable standards, including: ANSI/ITSDF B56.5‐2012 - Safety Standard for Driverless, Automatic Guided Industrial Vehicles and Automated Functions of Manned Industrial Vehicles and CSA Z434‐2014 (ANSI/RIAR15.06‐2012) ‐ Industrial Robots and Robot Systems
  2. Ensure you have a strong risk assessment process to determine what safeguards are needed for every possible scenario. Because of the specialized nature of robotics, consider bringing in an outside expert to help you develop a robot-specific risk assessment.
  3. Involve internal and external stakeholders: engineering, maintenance, health and safety, quality assurance, even your contracted integrator
  4. Develop a checklist before you purchase to ensure the robotic system has the right safety features, meet the necessary requirements, and are compliant with the CSA standard and regulations.
  5. Develop and train employees on working safely around robotic systems.
  6. Include robotic systems in monthly inspections to ensure robotic equipment continues operating in a safe manner, and to stay on top of hazards that may develop after installation.

How WSPS can help

  1. Explore our full line of machine safety and robotics resources
  2. Speak with a Consultant or call Customer Care, 1-877-494-WSPS (9777), experts like Robert Vomiero are on hand to help you:
    • provide training and direction on the CSA Z434-14 Industrial Robot and Robot System standard
    • facilitate a robotics or risk assessment
    • perform safety assessments of existing systems
  3. NEW! Take this half-day course, Managing Robot Safety