Revolutionising Industrial Automation: The Role of Robotics in Material Handling

With ever-changing technological advancements, robotics is revolutionising the way goods and materials are handled in the industrial and manufacturing industries.

In this article, you'll learn about various automated robotic machines, their benefits, and the roles they play in material handling today, along with recent trends and innovations to look out for.

What is Robotic Automated Material Handling?

Robotic Material Handling is the use of robots to move and transport objects within a production process. This can be utilised in a variety of ways, and modern robots can handle variations in item size, weight, and texture, performing actions that earlier robotic systems couldn't.

Depending on the type being used, these machines are typically equipped with various sensors that enable them to detect and interact with their environment safely and effectively. This allows them to be seamlessly integrated into existing manufacturing processes, allowing for smooth and efficient material flow. 

There are different types of industrial automation, such as:

  • Fixed Automation: A system or process that is designed to perform a specific task repeatedly without the need for human intervention or adjustment.
  • Programmable Automation: The ability to program machines or systems to perform specific tasks or operations automatically. This is ideal for batch production, as it allows for more flexibility than fixed machines.
  • Flexible Automation: Technology and systems that can easily adapt and adjust to changes in production processes and requirements.
  • Integrated Automation: Connects devices and machines into one control system, promoting flexibility and customisation.

Regardless of the type you’re using, the integration of robotic automated material handling has revolutionised the industrial sector by enabling continuous operation with minimal downtime. These systems not only boost productivity but also help manage increased consumer demand and labour shortages efficiently.

How Do Robotic Material Handling Machines Work?

Automated material handling machines use sensors and advanced programming to perform tasks efficiently - allowing them to detect and analyse different aspects of the materials being handled.

When considering which robot to utilise, several factors need to be taken into account. Facility layout plays a crucial role in determining the type and number of robots required, as well as their optimal placement.  The type of material being handled, whether it is fragile, hazardous, or bulky, affects the design and capabilities of the robots. Payload and speed requirements also need to be considered to ensure efficient and safe material handling operations.

The Benefits of Robotic Material Handling

Robotic material handling machines offer numerous benefits that can revolutionise the way tasks are performed. Here are some advantages of using these machines:

  • Increased productivity: With the ability to work tirelessly without breaks or fatigue, robotic material handling machines can significantly increase productivity. They can handle repetitive tasks quickly and accurately, allowing for more efficient operations.
  • Improved safety: These machines eliminate the risk of injury associated with the repetitive task of manual material handling. By automating the load and unload processes, workers are protected from potential hazards.
  • Enhanced precision: The use of advanced technology enables robotic material handling machines to precisely handle materials, minimising errors and improving product quality.
  • Cost savings: By reducing labour costs and eliminating downtime due to injuries or fatigue, businesses will experience significant cost savings over time.

Overall, incorporating robotic material handling machines into industrial processes brings about numerous benefits that enhance efficiency, safety, and profitability.

What is the Role of Robotics in Material Handling?

Robots play an important role in the automation of various tasks related to handling materials. From grasping, moving, and placing objects to seamlessly integrated mobile robotic platforms, automation is revolutionising the material handling industry.

In the past, a handling robot was a robotic arm that was permanently installed in a specific spot, such as on an assembly line, to connect various parts. However, modern advancements mean there are robots consisting of arms that are incorporated into a self-sufficient mobile robotic platform - meaning it can move and perform multiple handling tasks at any desired location as needed.

The type of machine you choose will impact its capabilities. Here are just some of the common applications of robotic material handlers:

Goods-To-Person Picking and Packaging

This method utilises advanced technology to move items through the manufacturing process quickly. These robots are equipped with sophisticated sensors that allow them to identify and grasp objects of various shapes and sizes. This approach saves time and increases efficiency by reducing manual labour.

Part Transfer

Part transfer robots are specifically designed to handle heavy and cumbersome parts, using advanced end-of-arm tooling and vision systems, to accurately pick up and transport parts from one location to another.

This reduces labour costs and reduces the potential for human error, leading to fewer delays on production lines.

Loading Conveyors

Robots make it possible to load items onto a moving monorail conveyor system quickly and efficiently. Using suction tools - like vacuum-gripping end effectors -  robots can pick up containers and place them on the conveyor. Not only does this increase efficiency, but it also prevents any accidental drops or spills during transportation, reducing the risk of product damage and improving overall safety in the workplace.

Handling (of Hazardous Materials)

You can count on robots to safely and quickly handle hazardous materials in extreme environments. Protected by heat-resistant armour, they are invaluable for tasks like tapping molten slag from furnaces, extracting toxic chemicals, transporting hazardous waste, moving items that require special handling, and collecting data over long periods in harsh conditions.

Robots have a high tolerance for the most extreme temperatures and chemical compositions, making them ideal for difficult material handling tasks. They provide an efficient solution when human labour is too dangerous or impractical.

Palletising and Depalletising

Robots can be programmed to stack goods into neat rows on a pallet precisely based on predetermined specifications. They can also accurately sort through mixed pallets quickly while avoiding the risk associated with hazardous materials.

On the other hand, robots can carefully remove (and depalletise) objects from stacked piles of material using specialised grippers tailored for particular shapes and sizes of goods.


Manual sorting can be time-consuming, prone to errors, and inefficient. Robots can be used to automate this monotonous task, allowing businesses to save time and effort.  They can be programmed to sort items such as mail, clothing, food items, and other goods according to certain criteria or categories.