New Goods-to-Robot Systems Take E-Fulfillment to the Next Level

Written By: Greg Martin

One Click Ahead | eCommerce Development

Two decades ago, as the Internet made its way into households, retail, and industrial environments, the world’s economic structure was quickly evolving. The Internet was providing a foundation for commerce to occur in a more rapid and convenient fashion. Electronic commerce (eCommerce) was quickly becoming the platform of choice for procuring everything from household products to industrial equipment.

In the 2000s, as eCommerce continued to matriculate into just about every type of industry and market, speed, accuracy, and order customization became some of the distinguishing factors between successful and failing suppliers.

In the past decade, order fulfillment lead times have become increasingly aggressive with eCommerce sites promising as quick as 1-hour delivery of certain items. As customers load their virtual shopping carts with an array of different items, optimizing the order fulfillment process has become a focus of many organizations looking to be one step (or click) ahead of their competitors.

Order Fulfillment Optimization

Packaging and distribution technology has quickly evolved to assist efforts to minimize the time between order and delivery. Strategies such as warehouse management systems, sortation, mixed load palletizing, and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) have aided in these aggressive order fulfillment pursuits.

Robot AS/RS Integration

Goods to Robot Picking System

Goods-to-robot system integrated with an AutoStore ASRS.

Bastian Robotics has taken the next step into order fulfillment automation by designing systems that integrate with the back end of an AS/RS to fulfill à la carte orders and consolidate the items for shipment. These goods-to-robot, bin picking solutions can help reduce labor costs while simultaneously improving the speed and flexibility of custom order fulfillment.

When integrated with an AS/RS and order processing software, a robot is utilized to pick items from totes that have been dispatched to the front-end of an AS/RS and place the ordered items into adjacent shipping cartons. The tote is then sent back into the AS/RS and the robot awaits the arrival of another product tote.

Goods-to-Robot Picking

Robotic bin picking generally involves the following components:

  • Bin of objects to be picked (SKUs)
  • Shipping container for items to be placed upon order
  • 6-axis robot
  • Robot End-of-Arm-Tooling (EoAT)
  • 3-dimensional area sensor vision/camera system
  • Robot controls
  • Safety devices and guarding

3-D Vvision Systems for Robotic PickingA tote containing randomly oriented objects (SKUs) is presented to the 3-D camera system at which point a series of photos are taken to map out the object orientations. Within a split second, the robot and vision controls identify the “most pickable” object in the pile (i.e. those on top of the pile) and release the robot to pick it.

At this point, the robot controls manipulate the robot arm and EoAT inside the tote while using suction or a gripping technology to pick an object without encroaching on other objects or the tote walls. The robot then retracts from the bin and places the object in a secondary shipping carton and is ready for another pick-and-place sequence.

While robotic picking and packing technology is nothing new, the advances in 3-dimensional, randomly oriented item picking have been enormous. Camera and sensor costs are dropping and the ease of implementation/programming is improving. The time required to introduce and “learn” a new product and its respective geometry has reduced significantly with the packaged software solutions that are provided with many 3-D camera systems. Implementing a goods-to-robot picking system has never been more economically justifiable.

Bin Picking Applications

Goods-to-robot picking has applications reaching far beyond just AS/RS integration. The ability to pick from delivered bins can help improve operations in some of the following areas (among others):

  • Singulating items shipped in bulk on to a take-away conveyor
  • Picking bulk, randomly oriented items for quality inspection
  • Part assembly via picking parts from multiple bins

Many other applications exist or will be developed in the near future using this rapidly developing technology.

Goods-to-Robot in Action at ProMat

Bastian Solutions at ProMat 2015Bastian Solutions will be demonstrating a goods-ro-robot picking system in booth #3953 at ProMat 2015, held March 23-26, 2015 at Chicago’s McCormick Place South. The exhibited robotic cell will be integrated with a miniature AutoStore AS/RS and custom infeed/outfeed material handling systems. Please make sure to stop by, introduce yourself, and watch the system pick and place a range of consumer products.

Put yourself on the leading edge of robotic technology and continue to learn how you can implement a goods-to-robot system to improve the operations in your facility.

Greg joined Bastian Robotics in 2014 as a Field Applications Engineer. Greg is a licensed Professional Mechanical Engineer in the State of Missouri. Throughout his career, Greg has had substantial project and construction management experience across many different industries with industrial, commercial, higher-education, and municipal clients.

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3 comments

  1. Roger Wilke says:

    Nice work Greg! It’s amazing how much and quickly all of this technology has changed.

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