What is a dark warehouse? It's not a warehouse with its lights off if that's what you're wondering. No, the dark warehouse, or otherwise known as the "lights-out facility", is a factory that runs completely through automated means without any human intervention. Warehouses are opting in for self-driving forklifts, robots equipped with vision cameras, automatic storage and retrieval systems and more. Adidas recently announced a lights-out facility in Germany that would see robots in charge of manufacturing shoes.
Other factories that currently use fully automated systems include cold storage and freezer warehouses where food is frozen and stored. And soon, electronics companies will be using dark warehouses in the manufacturing of electronic devices. The truth is, humans don't need to do those jobs anymore. A hand-tailored cell phone doesn't make anyone jump out of their seats with pride and joy. But a hand tailored Rolls-Royce is a different thing.
However, lights out facilities are becoming more and more sought after in the industrial world. "A lights-out facility is more possible in less-variable parts of logistics, where people are moving a large portion of the same types of objects," said Matt Engle, an employee for Cognex Corp, a company that specializes in vision systems for factory automation.
The dark warehouse is becoming a goal for some factories. The efficiency of a fully automated factory is becoming somewhat of a bragging right for some companies. However, if it isn't cost-effective, then is it truly worth it? The answer to that question lies in co-bot (collaborative robots) technology. Cobots are cheaper than fully automated industrial robots and cost small and medium-sized enterprises - who want to go into automation - much less. However, collaborative robotics alludes to the involvement of human instruction. Thereby, eliminating the truly dark warehouse.
However, for big industrial facilities that are looking to fully automating and going 'dark', DC Velocity has compiled a comprehensive three-point checklist that companies can follow in their pursuit for fully automated systems:
- Automated storage and retrieval systems: facilities that handle high volumes of inventory moving and out of storage
- High-speed sorting equipment
- Warehouse robotics: guided by wireless instruction from a warehouse management system or warehouse execution system