Robot Solutions For Logistics Automation: Depalletizing & Palletizing

Before now, robots could not move without teaching (programming); on the contrary, a robot would, by definition, faithfully repeat whatever it was taught. 

Compared to these robots that could not move unless taught, robots equipped with Mujin robot control system is the world’s first all-purpose intelligent robot control system that involves real-time perception, motion planning AI which can think through movements themselves, and control.
Mujin robot control system is completely "teachless"
The Mujin Controller system can make any robot intelligent, allowing them to be used for applications in various fields in ways that were previously impractical.

The main idea of Mujin is to make all warehouses and factories fully automated so that humans are not going there at all. Therefore, we have to cover all stages with automatic solutions.

Mujin's solutions

Mujin is the only company offering a wide range of robot automation applications for logistics centers, extending from vehicle/container unloading in upstream warehouse logistics, to midstream piece picking and downstream palletizing.

Do you know what’s going on in a logistics warehouse? 

Items are coming to the logistics site in huge trucks and somebody has to unload the truck. Each item has to be registered while unloading from the truck and then placed into storage. Usually, logistics centers do not ship pallets with only one item, they ship mixed items shipment like 10 boxes of water, 5 boxes of coffee, 1 box of tea, etc. Customers require logistics centers to arrange everyday shipping which is different everyday and cannot be predicted beforehand.  

Mujin can grab the pallet and pick up several items from the pallet, which is called depalletizing, and place it into temporary storage. Later, Mujin robots pick up several items from the temporary storage area one by one and load  it to make an order and ship it to the customer; the loading we call palletizing. This is only one of the possible scenarios. Mujin can suggest different configurations based on the customer's needs, for example depalletize and palletize at the same time.    

A Fully Automated Warehouse Powered by Mujin robots 

Actual boxes 

Imagine, you have to pick up boxes which can be heavy, around 15-30 kg (depending on the customer needs) for 8 hours a day. It’s a very hard job to do, physically and mentally. Usually, the warehouse or factory’s environment is not healthy: it can be dusty, no heating/cooling, noisy. People cannot work for 8 hours without breaks in such an environment, it may become very stressful and the workers might quit.  Also, usually warehouses are located in areas where it is difficult to commute and with nothing around.


   
Tough labor
During IREX 2019, Mujin showed mixed-SKU (i.e. mixed object types) palletizing and depalletizing solutions. At the same time, there were people behind the scene who were restacking the boxes for the demonstration. Even though we made the boxes pretty light, we still needed 6 people just for unloading/loading boxes. We were frequently cycling through workers, because the area was tight, and working 8 hours in a row even with 4 kg boxes was extremely difficult.  From the IREX demonstration experience, we experienced first hand how we can improve our society by decreasing labor jobs and let people focus on creativity. 

Mujin Exhibition Highlight Movie - International Robot Exhibition 2019

Why are Mujin systems so great?  

Whatever people can see when they are watching our demos is just a robot picking up boxes and placing them.  The process is more complicated: there are lots of different scenarios in real-time which cannot be predicted. Each of our trajectories is generated in real-time, and each robot movement is adapting to the continuously changing situation. 

Mujin "Teachless" high performance

Also, our world is not perfect, so Mujin has to adapt our robot motions and our decisions based on real-world conditions, which is the most complicated part. For example, weather conditions in Japan depend on the season. In the summer, it is very hot and humidity is high. In the winter, it is dry and snows a lot in some areas. Boxes become wet and more fragile, which means that robots cannot apply the same amount of forces or accelerations, so it cannot behave the same as with a dry box. 

Therefore, it’s impossible to program a robot with a traditional robot teaching approach, which is teaching every robot movement (you teach the robot and the robot just repeats). Maybe you can spend another year and teach the robot thousands to perform different movements based on the observed real-world scenarios. That may be enough for some customers, but when a new pallet comes to the factory or some unpredictable conditions happen, robots don't know what to do anymore. Thus, an engineer has to come to reprogram the robot, which costs a lot of time and money.

Real time  depalletizing, multi-pick hand

Depalletizing


Mujin has different systems for depalletizing, and we keep improving them. The current solution we suggest for our customers is depalletizing multiple boxes with one robot movement (picking several items at the same time with one robot arm). This allows us to increase productivity and delivery time. Also, such a solution can help to decrease an impact on the economy from such unpredictable circumstances such as temporary lockdowns. Currently, many companies are struggling to continue business without automatic solutions. The best thing about Mujin’s solution is that it can work 24/7. 

Single-SKU depalletizing robot (1000 cs/h) with multi-pick hand

When a customer approaches us and wants to apply Mujin depalletizing solution at their logistics center, usually it takes less than a couple months to install Mujin solution for a customer’s factory. It is most important to know information about each item the robots will handle.

Mixed-SKU depalletizing robot (550 cs/h)

What do you think you need to know about the box to be able to pick it up? 

We need to know the dimensions of the box, the weight of the box, the mass of the box, the center of mass of the box, etc. There are different ways to get information about the boxes: either directly from the customer or by using another Mujin solution which can measure all of those parameters automatically. Mujin's auto-registration technology allows depalletizing robots to handle products that have not been handled before. Mujin-powered robots can automatically figure out how to handle each new product and the depalletizing performance improves over time.

Mujin’s recognition algorithm example

Usually, wholesale companies change their shipping products frequently and the life cycle of each of the items is short. For example, the size of a box might be changed after one month due to a special campaign. To adapt  to these sometimes-unexpected changes in a real-time working warehouse without stopping the distribution line even for 5 minutes, use of Mujin auto-registration technology is highly recommended. 


Mixed-SKU depalletizing solution for Mujin's customer

Palletizing

A common task in logistics is to load products that are ready for shipment onto pallets, carts, and cages. Palletizing is another complicated solution. First of all, it’s almost impossible to teach a robot.

Mixed-SKU palletizing robot

Even if you have to pack only 10 different boxes, the number of packing configurations is huge. The pallet's standard size and dimensions are different depending on the country. Some boxes are optimized by the manufacturer for the one type of pallet, but the same packing configuration cannot be applied for another pallet type.

     
Carts, pallets, and cages

When it comes to packing on a cage or carts, there's even much more variety of different constraints. For example, one problem with carts and cages is that after some time of usage, the shape can be changed e.g. damaged, scratch, etc. Different shapes mean different configurations, so items should be packed in different ways based on the currently available cage or cart.

Mujin vision system can recognize any shape deviation and adapt robot motion based on a real-world situation. 
Mujin 3D Vision system

For logistics centers that ship a few times a day, Mujin suggests using a packing cluster solution. One order can consist of several thousands of items, and customers upload all of them on our packing calculation cluster. Once real-time packing placement generations are done, we give the most efficient way of packing for all items. The variety of items is huge and every time the customer order is different, so every time a new packing solution is generated by Mujin. After the calculation is finished, robots can start loading according to the computed packing configuration. Using Mujin’s solution and knowing the information about items beforehand, palletizing becomes more efficient and stable, and fewer cages, carts, or pallets are necessary, which is important for reducing the final cost.  

   
Pack formation computation

One more criteria for palletizing is to know what kind of item the robots have to pick up based on the weight and size of the box. The robot also has to know the fragile boxes cannot be placed on the bottom under the heavy boxes. Also, we have to be sure that the pallet is stable and balanced enough for transportation. After all, it can be transferred by conveyor or forklifts. We also do pallet, cage, and cart detection to ensure the correct object will be loaded onto the proper destination and to minimize the amount of material handling.

Real time random palletizing

In the latest next-generation warehouse, which started operation in 2019, Mujin's fully automated smart random palletizing robot stations were deployed. It is one of the first random palletizing applications that supports palletizing onto pallets, carts, and cages simultaneously. With Mujin's proprietary technologies, not only is optimal robot motion generated, but also the optimal packing formation is computed to maximize packing efficiency, palletizing speed, and minimizes the number of containers sent to customers.

Random SKU packing solution for Mujin's customer

That's why Mujin solutions are one of the best ways to optimize the palletizing and depalletizing processes since all configurations are determined by 2 small controllers: Motion and Vision.

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