Which Goods-to-Person Technology is Best For Your Operation?
What is goods-to-person order fulfillment? Goods-to-person (G2P) is the use of automated technologies to deliver the right item or SKU, at the right time, and to the right operator or workstation. Goods-to-person technologies increase productivity, throughput, and labor utilization by eliminating wasted walk and search time. Likewise, G2P will increase workers accuracy and ergonomics levels while reducing facility floor space requirements.
Finding your RightFIT goods-to-person technology is a process determined by your operations SKU and order profiles, facility characteristics, labor utilization, business and growth plans which all boil down to creating a return on investment (ROI) which aligns with your business objectives.
Below we outline the key benefits of leveraging goods-to-person technology, review nine of the major types of goods-to-person systems you can consider, and offer advice you can use to determine which solution best suits the needs of your business.
Are you considering a Goods-to-Person solution for your operation? A member of the Conveyco team can help you understand your options.
Benefits of Goods-to-Person Technology
The primary benefits of goods-to-person technologies, and the primary reasons that operations choose to invest in such technologies, include:
- It reduces travel time and increases throughput: Because goods-to-person automatically brings the inventory where it needs to be, when it is needed, workers spend less time traveling and searching for product and more time actually picking, which leads to higher pick volumes in shorter times. Looking at the chart, you can see that up to 65% of an operators time is spent searching and walking to find the correct inventory. Goods-to-person eliminates this wasted time and keeps operators focussed on value added activities (picking, putting, set-up, etc.)
- It increases accuracy: Most goods-to-person technologies have a number of verification (often double verification) mechanisms built right into the system. For example, workers might scan a barcode, QR code, or RFID badge, while the system also confirms the weight is as expected. This results in higher accuracy and fewer errors.
It reduces labor demands: Because goods-to-person increases efficiency and throughput, you will likely find that you can achieve more with less. This allows you to save on labor costs.
- It promotes social distancing: In many operations leveraging goods-to-person technology, each worker is located at their own workstation. These are naturally placed a certain distance apart from one another, promoting social distancing. Likewise, less travel means that each worker interacts with fewer individuals during their shift. While this is important during COVID-19, it will also prove beneficial into the future as a means of limiting other contagious outbreaks, such as the seasonal flu.
- It improves worker ergonomics: Goods-to-person tech often serves to reduce or eliminate the amount of stretching, reaching, bending, lifting, and twisting that workers must perform each day. This increases their ergonomics and reduces the risk of workplace injury.
- It reduces floor space: All goods-to-person technologies optimize vertical clear height and horizontal floor space. Depending on the technology you will find a savings that will range from 60% to over 90%.
Types of Goods-to-Person Technology
A number of different technologies can all be considered goods-to-person because, at their heart, they work by bringing product or inventory to the individual instead of forcing the individual to travel to the inventory. These can be split into two key groups: Robotic solutions (AMRs), and AS/RS.
A. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)
1. Stacker-Bot Tote & Carton Goods-to-Person System
The Stacker-Bot is a type of AMR designed specifically to retrieve product or inventory and move it to a different location within a facility. While there are many applications for this unit, one such application is to retrieve the products needed by a picker. Once the pick is complete, the bot will then return the product to the proper SKU location and retrieve the next batch of items to be picked. In this way it can almost be thought of as a form of automated flow rack. The bot can pick and stack up to 5 levels of product, 102 inches tall, and integrate with workstations, sorters, conveyors, and more.
2. Go-Fer Bot Rack & Shelving Goods-to-Person System
The Go-Fer Bot is another AMR designed to transport items within a facility, whether that be for replenishing, returns, kitting, or picking. The original technology gained notoriety by Kiva and is relied upon by Amazon. Designed to retrieve shelving and rack full of inventory, the Go-Fer Bot delivers product directly to the workstation and operator for picking. Integrated scanning, pick-to-light, and software provides high productivity batch picking efficiencies. The software automatically slots the system for constantly increasing levels of productivity.
3. Exotec Skypod AMR/ASRS Hybrid Goods-to-Person System
Exotec Skypod can be thought of as an AMR-based form of AS/RS. It was designed specifically with goods-to-person applications in mind. The system relies on its three dimensional Skypod robots to climb the storage racks and retrieve totes or cases as required, which is then delivered directly to the pick station. Once the operator picks the product, the Skypod returns the bin to storage. In addition to higher accuracy and throughputs mentioned above, Exotec Skypod system offers high-density storage up to 38 feet which can be a game changer for operations with tight footprints. This system can surpass Cube Storage Systems (AutoStore, Ocado, etc.) in density, throughput and ease of maintenance requirements often needed in same day delivery ecommerce order fulfilment.
B. Automatic Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
1. Shuttles Goods-to-Person System
AS/RS shuttles work by retrieving the required tote or carton which contains the product needing to be picked. It then delivers this tote or carton to a workstation, where the worker can complete the pick. The inventory is then returned to storage and the next item retrieved. Shuttles offer high speeds, and can be scaled as necessary as your business grows. There are many varieties and models of Shuttle goods-to-person systems to meet different requirements. Some shuttle’s are captured and remain on the same level or track and others can move throughout a system. Likewise, some systems are vertically oriented such as OPEX while others are horizontally oriented and use levels to maximize vertical cube.
2. Mini-load Goods-to-Person System
Mini-load AS/RS relies upon an automatic crane, which travels through narrow aisles of tall rack holding product. The crane retrieves cases as necessary for picking, and then returns them to storage once the pick is complete. The Mini-load is very effective for case-sized picking and storage applications. It can also be very effective in operations that lack space for traditional carton-flow shelving to provide a pick face for pickers.
3. Horizontal Carousels Goods-to-Person System
Horizontal carousels essentially consist of a series of bins moving along a track. Each bin contains multiple shelves of product or inventory. As inventory is needed, the carousel delivers the correct bin directly to the workstation or pod where the worker is stationed. Once the item is picked, the next shelf is automatically brought into place.
4. Vertical Lift Modules Goods-to-Person System
Vertical lift modules (also called VLMs) are an enclosed form of AS/RS. Product is stored in trays, which the system retrieves as needed and delivers directly to an operator, who picks the order. As each pick is complete, the system automatically returns the tray and retrieves the next. These systems can be very helpful in optimizing vertical cube that would otherwise go unused.
5. Pouch and Pocket Sorters & Goods-to-Person System
Pocket and pouch sorters is a type of unit sorter that adds goods-to-person functionality. Items are placed one at a time into pockets or pouches hanging from an overhead trolley conveyor system. The pockets are then stored in an automated overhead conveyor buffer until enough units have been put into the system to complete an order or a wave of orders. The system automatically retrieves and sorts the wave of units into discrete orders and sequences them to packing stations.
6. Vertical Sequencing Module (VSM) Goods-to-Person System
The Vertical Sequencing Module (VSM) is a self-contained module with tote positions in the front and rear of the unit. There can be one unit or many working in unison. The VSM has a pick window, conveyor or AMR interface in the front and rear of each module and can be located on multiple levels (not just the base). An inserter/extractor system runs up and down the center storing and retrieving totes. The inserter/extractor is told which totes to pick by the controls and software. In one movement, the inserter/extractor picks the totes from the front and back of the module’s storage positions. Then the totes move on the inserter/extractor system platform to reflect the sequence required. The totes are then delivered to the pick window or awaiting conveyor, pick window or AMR to be delivered to the workstation for goods-to-person handling.
How to Choose the Right Goods-to-Person Solution
As you can see, there are a myriad of options available when it comes to leveraging goods-to-person technology for your operations. Ultimately, the best solution is the one that is the RightFIT for your organization and will depend on a number of factors, including:
- How agile and flexible you need the system to be
- Your required level of ROI
- The number of items or SKUs being stored and handled
- Inventory physical characteristics
- The velocity of inventory
- Your average order profiles
- Order cutoff times
- Your labor requirements
- The amount of floorspace available
- The ceiling height within your facility
- Deployment schedule (i.e., how rapidly do you need your system in place?)
- Whether or not you require a scalable solution
If you are interested in implementing goods-to-person technology in your warehouse or distribution center but are unsure of which system makes the most sense for you, a trusted systems integrator can help you understand your options and design a solution that fits your requirements. Contact us today to speak with a member of the Conveyco Team.