Electronics Condensing on the Factory Floor

My paper today includes one of those typical business section PR placed pieces about a local company, in this case a robotics company.

I think thier product is just too delightfully amusing.

It’s a warehouse management system. You store all your junk shelving units, pretty much regular ones. These shelving units are then scattered around the warehouse. Want something? Send a robot to get it. This is when the silly magic happens. The robot doesn’t bring you the part your looking for. Instead it brings you the whole shelving unit.

The robot runs out into the warehouse, slips under the shelving unit, lifts it up, and runs back to your desk with everything on it. In there spare time the robots can rearrange the shelving so popular items move toward the front of the warehouse and unpopular items are packed densely toward the back.

While I think this idea is very amusing it has the added cuteness of being sufficently counter intuitive a that they certainly got some strong patents out of it. It’s a nice idea because all you need is a flat floor and a slight upgrade in your shelf units. The robots are very simpler than most because they work only in two dimensions.

This is typical of a kind of general trend in automation. In olde factories humans wandered the factory floors, listening, gazing, pulling levers, turning valves, etc. In 20th century automated factories sensors and actuators were wrapped around component in the factory. Which made everything a lot more expensive because electronics was sprayed all over everything. We are seeing some condensation of that electronic – or to use the over blown terminology of the industry “the intellegence.” It’s becomming possible to build factories that have reasonably dumb components in the majority, like those shelving units, but slightly clever robotics that run around the factory like the workers of old. Instead of having valves that fit the hands of labor today’s valves fit the robot’s needs; down at floor level for example.

Boy, are there some powerful network effects and platform buisness models that will play out in this industry!

The company’s named Kiva Systems and here’s the article.

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