Following a hugely successful Cyber Monday, it’s easy to see why an efficient and accurate order fulfillment process is critical to today’s retailers. Customers are expecting orders to arrive faster, and one way of doing that is implementing automation into manual operations.
When it comes to material handling automation, though, it’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. The right technology for your business depends on your products, seasonality, business objectives, required throughput, and other characteristics.
Below are just a few of the advanced picking technologies available today that could be explored by online retailers: Perfect Pick, AutoStore, augmented reality, and Robo-Pick.
Goods-to-person systems can take a tremendous amount of labor and cycle time out of a picking operation. One example of this type of technology is Perfect Pick. This system uses autonomous shuttle carriers called iBots to move totes or trays to picking stations at either end of an aisle. Unlike other shuttle technology that must rely on elevators, conveyors, or lifts, iBOTs pick and stock inventory on both sides of the aisle delivering totes in sequence directly to a picking station.
The iBots can deliver totes at the rate of 800-1000 cycles per hour. They also operate on the principle of redundancy, so Perfect Pick has no single point of failure. Another compelling feature of this technology is its scalability. Users can scale throughput capacity by adding additional iBots as needed to support processing. This allows for a lower intimal investment to install the technology with a good level of flexibility for future growth.
- iBots move product in totes or trays to pickers
- Ergonomic pick station
- High picking rates reaching 1000 cycles per hour
- Energy efficient: iBots use ultra-capacitors that charge during operation of the system
Another goods-to-person system is AutoStore, which uses totes to store product in silos within a grid. The retrieval robots travel on the grid and obtain the totes from openings at the top. To retrieve a tote, a robot stages totes on top of the one it needs on top of the grid. When it has the needed tote, it takes it to a pick station around the perimeter of the grid. Meanwhile, another bot comes by and cleans up by putting back the un-needed totes. In this way, the system tends to self-profile: the totes needed most often, tend to stay near the top of the grid and are more quickly retrieved. Slower moving totes migrate to the bottom of the stacks in the grid.
Because the inventory is in totes that are stacked on top of each other without any racking, AutoStore uses the cube of a warehouse extremely well. It is also a very scalable solution, with the ability to easily add additional tote stacks for storage and robots for throughput. The picking stations can deliver up to 500 totes per hour to an operator.
- Grid system uses floor space extremely well
- Redundancy of robots / pick stations avoids system failure
- Picking rates of 500 totes per hour or higher
- Scalability of storage and throughput
As voice technology has improved, so has the ability for systems to use vision as a means of communicating information to pickers. This merging of information with the real world is call “augmented reality” – computer-generated images and information superimposed on an operator’s work environment. One example of this technology is KiSoft Vision by Knapp.
KiSoft Vision is a paperless picking technology. The employee wears a headset equipped with a see-through display on which all the relevant information for the picking process appears in relation to the surrounding products and area. The navigation system provides accurate guidance along the shortest distance from storage location to storage location, and the integrated camera captures serial and lot ID numbers. Although this is a relatively new tool, it is likely to find its place in the mix of technology-assisted picking.
- Employees have both hands free for picking
- Vision guidance provides increased picking accuracy
- System can automatically capture UPCs, serial numbers, etc.
- Easily integrated into existing warehouses
- Quick training time for new employees
Robo-Pick is a fully automatic, fast, and precise picking cell that can integrate into existing warehouses and achieve up to 2,000 picks per hour. The two-step image processing system automatically recognizes the position of products and controls a delta picking robot – therefore removing the need to enter individual product characteristics and features or to arrange products in a particular position.
Product can be delivered automatically from a mini-load ASRS or other automated system. Robo-Pick uses a combination of 3D- and 2D-picture processing. In a matter of seconds, the picture processing cell identifies four to six pickable products as the product tote passes by. The picture processing is not affected by products in several layers or inclined position, jet-black articles, round products or asymmetric or beveled packages.
The system then chooses the product that the robot will pick and deposits it into staging lanes that are released to outbound totes.
- Product is delivered from a mini-load ASRS in totes
- Vision system determines which product to pick and its location in the tote
- Uses a Flexpicker robot to pick product automatically
- Product is deposited into staging lane then released to outbound tote
These four technologies are only a few of the solutions available to companies today, but each offer their own unique benefits. Regardless of what solution you might choose, the one thing all e-tailers can agree on is the focus on faster delivery times, including the race to achieve same-day delivery. Can these solutions help you get there? Definitely, but there’s a little work to do up front to ensure you choose the right solution for your business.
For additional information, watch our 30-minute webinar on advanced order fulfillment picking technologies.