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Tompkins Robotics: Automating Hyperlocal and DC Sortation from End to End

Bailey Ludlam | 13 October 2021

In today’s global market – facing an acceleration in ecommerce and managing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic – flexibility is not only key, but a necessity. The flexibility to scale up or down and use automation where it fits best in order to help to maintain a leading edge in the industry markets.

Facilitating greater speed, agility and adaptability in warehouse distribution and order fulfillment, Tompkins Robotics’ solutions are designed to allow customers to be more successful in dynamically changing environments. In 2019, Bastian Solutions added Tompkins Robotics’ autonomous mobile robot (AMRs) solution to our growing portfolio of automation capabilities.

We talked to Mike Futch, the CEO and President of Tompkins Robotics, for a deeper insight on the technology and future of DC automation development.

“The evolution on the imagination and creation of new technologies, new complimentary combinations of technology, and the innovative ways we are using them to design more optimal solutions in various industries and applications is really impacting the market,” says Mike Futch.

 

Q: The ability to scale operations is a big focus right now with the uncertainties of the Coronavirus pandemic – investment capital, workforce changes and future planning. What kind of flexibility does Tompkins Robotics technology bring?

Flexibility is one of the biggest reasons for our adoption with major firms and why we are excelling in the marketplace. This flexibility combined with our lower need for resources makes a compelling business case. We typically require only 25 - 50% of the space of a traditional sortation or order fulfillment systems. We also cost 25 - 50% less. We require less labor and can automate typically manual operations like the exit side of sortation activities. We also deploy in half the time. This is really different than a traditional putwall, tilt tray, crossbelt or bomb bay sorter.

We have the flexibility to add robots or induction stations. Once the assets are at the customer site: we can add a robot to the workforce in one minute; we can add sortation locations in an hour; and we can add an induction station in a day. These installation timeframes are unheard of in the automated sortation industry.

We are a mobile piece of equipment – no hard-wired electrical, the system is not bolted down and there are no sprinklers required. All of this means no permitting as well. So, the system can be expanded at will or moved from one location to another. It is scalable, modular, configurable, mobile and very portable. These are things that are revolutionary for the sortation industry.

 

Q: What benefits and optimizations does Tompkins Robotics technology bring to an operation?

Tompkins Robotics is focused on the robotic automation of distribution and fulfillment operations. We primarily develop and deploy robotic sortation systems through a series of models named t-Sort. These are various size and capacity robotic AMRs that sort a wide range of items and packages to consolidation points to optimize the labor, capacity, space, accuracy and performance for supply chain operations.

Flexibility is paramount today and t-Sort offers the most flexible solution on the market. We are more rapidly deployed in a smaller space than traditional operations that are conveyor intensive and use traditional sorters. Our technology can convert from ecommerce to retail replenishment to returns processing to outbound parcel shipping in a simple changeover between waves of work. We even have sites doing ecommerce and retail replenishment in the same system on the same waves, and the balance between the processes can dynamically change wave to wave.

These AMRs can sort things as small as a penny or a business card, and up to a meter by a half meter package weighing 66 pounds. We are expanding the suite of models to include other robots that do things such as automate the exit side of the sortation process. We have also expanded into joint collaboration and deployment with complimentary robotic systems such as pick assist AMRs (autonomous mobile robots), GTP (goods to person) AMRs, ASRS (automated storage and retrieval systems) and robotic pick and place.

This brings a tremendous amount of positive benefits to typical operations and traditional ways of doing things. We typically use tSort to sort items and packages directly into a container of some sort – a tote, carton, bag, gaylord, etc. This reduced manual work in moving items from a chute to a container like traditional systems require. This saves roughly, 33 - 50% of the labor for a sortation system. The recently released xChange adds even more efficiency to the sortation process by helping to automate the removal of completed orders and replacing containers with empty bins.

Overall, we can put a system in any part of a customer’s supply chain, from the backroom of a store to a national distribution center. The system is like LEGO blocks and can be any size you want. We are portable and can even do temporary, pop-up locations that support seasonal local market needs.

 

Q: What does the future of automated sortation systems like t-Sort and the recently released, xChange, systems look like?

The goal is to automate end to end. In fact, we are currently deploying, with Bastian, a solution for a customer that has an AutoStore combined with a t-Sort. The AutoStore delivers a pick tote to a pick port and an operator selects items that they immediately place onto a t-Sort robot to sort to an order. The system has 648 sort destinations, so the operator at any AutoStore pick port is effectively pulling all the items for 648 orders at once and the t-Sort gets it to the right order. Phase two is to pursue robotic pick and place to automate most of the labor doing the pick and place to the t-Sort. Adding the new xChange system will automate the removal of completed orders for t-Sort and insert a new empty order container. In this future state process, nearly all the process steps for the customer will be automated including storage, retrieval, pick, place, sort and transfer to packing.

It is also important to note that this type of combination of technologies is becoming more and more widespread. We have four AutoStore and t-Sort combinations in process including one for a MFC (microfulfillment) operation. We have two sites underway combining t-Sort with goods to person AMRs. They’ll move shelving pods to the t-Sort inducts. We have sites with robotic pick and place combined with t-Sort. There are other combinations of technology we are working on as well. The flexibility to pair automation technologies is the future.

 

Q: Varying robotic offerings have been around for a while and there are numerous combinations of technologies that can be implemented to create custom solutions. How has the focus evolved for these systems? 

We already talked about AutoStore and t-Sort combinations but consider how that can be used in a store, dark store or hyperlocal MFC. These technologies provide a more cost-effective approach in terms of labor, capital, total capacity, and scalability, to name a few. In fact, we won a recent project to do just this and have others under serious consideration. The application of these technologies is large and can fit in many different industries.

Also, imagine a combination of t-Sort and a GTP AMR system, such as GreyOrange, that is deployed in a vacant retail space such as an unused grocery store. You just created an automated dark store or MFC center that can be rapidly deployed, has a lot of flexibility and can even be relocated if desired. This type of solution can be designed with a batch pick process with a pick assist AMR, such as Chuck from 6 River Systems. All of this can be deployed at larger sites as well.

The evolution on the imagination and creation of new technologies, new complimentary combinations of technology, and the innovative ways we are using them to design more optimal solutions in various industries and applications is really impacting the market.

Author: Bailey Ludlam

Bailey is a content marketing specialist with the Bastian Solutions marketing department, based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. She has a bachelor’s degree from Washington College and 10 years’ experience working in marketing and journalism. Outside of work, Bailey enjoys spending time with her husband and two children and can usually be found hiking, running, or creating with LEGO bricks. 

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