4 Options for Robotic & AS/RS-based Picking
In the past few years, there has been a general trend in warehouses and distribution centers to leverage robotic and AS/RS-based picking as a means of reducing labor costs and increasing efficiency.
The emergence of COVID-19 has only accelerated this trend recently, for a number of reasons:
- More workers are choosing to stay out of the labor force to avoid potentially catching the disease, causing pressure on the market
- Operations are looking for ways to “socially distance” workers within their facilities in order to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak
- Increased consumer demand, especially from an ecommerce standpoint, has made efficiency more important than ever
Is your operation considering implementing robotic or AS/RS-based picking? If so, it’s important to understand the different options available to you so that you can be sure you are leveraging the best possible solution.
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The Problem with Manual Picking
If your operation already relies upon manual picking processes, then you likely understand the shortcomings that underpin it. Still, it warrants saying them out loud.
At the highest level, manual picking is inefficient. This has always been the case, and for one simple reason: It relies on human workers in order to get things done. And humans, as we all know, are known to get tired, cut corners, and otherwise make mistakes. Due to COVID-19, facilities now also need to worry about whether or not workers are appropriately spaced to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.
How Robotic Picking Can Help
Utilizing AMRs, AS/RS, or other robotic options for picking removes many of these challenges through the simple act of removing the human element.
Compared to human workers, robotic solutions are extremely dependable. They don’t get tired and slow down as the day wears on, they don’t get sick, they don’t miss a shift or take time off. For these same reasons, robotic picking typically leads to higher accuracy rates and fewer errors compared to manual picking. Robotic picking solutions can work 24/7 if need be, allowing your operation to not only become more efficient but to also increase capacity to meet growing consumer demand.
And because you are now able to redeploy your personnel to other, higher value tasks within your facility, you’re saving on labor costs at the same time.
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That being said, in the past robotic picking solutions did come with a number of challenges of their own. Though they were more accurate, they were not typically as fast as humans. This was driven in large part by the complexities of training a robotic system to identify an object and determine the best means of picking it up and manipulating it.
The good news is that a number of technological advancements in recent years has dramatically reduced these issues. The emergence of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and a variety of new edifactors means that robotic systems have gotten much better and faster, and will only continue to do so into the future.
4 Options for Robotic-Based Picking
There are many different ways that you may be able to leverage robotics and AMRs to automate your picking processes. Below are four potential options. Ultimately, which scenario is best suited for your operation will depend on the specifics of your business, including the type of inventory that you handle and your throughput requirements.
1. Personal Assistant AMR (PA-AMR) Person to Goods Picking
A Personal Assistant AMR is a type of Autonomous Mobile Robot that is meant to augment your picking system by having a person go to the goods.
In this scenario, the PA-AMR guides a human picker to the location of inventory that needs to be picked. The same system will tell the picker what needs to be picked (through either an on-screen command or potentially a Pick-to-Light functionality) and how many units are necessary. Once the worker has completed the pick, they place the item into a carton or tote on the bot, and the bot then guides them to the next location.
Benefits: This type of robotic picking system is perfect for small, medium, and young companies who are not yet ready to fully automate their processes. The system has been shown to increase efficiency and decrease travel time, allowing for higher throughputs with lower labor costs.
2. Stacker-Bot Goods to Person AMR-AS/RS System
The Stacker-Bot AMR is a hybrid Automated Storage & Retrieval System (AS/RS) system. The system provides high-density storage by being able to store and retrieve up to five totes in a single double-deep storage rack up to 197” tall. In fact, the system can often utilize existing shelving and rack.
The Stacker-Bot essentially works by retrieving inventory to then be picked by either a human worker or a robotic arm.
It is a specific type of AMR that travels throughout the warehouse retrieving totes (up to five at one time). These totes are then placed on a conveyor, where either the robotic arm or human worker can pick what is necessary. Once the inventory has been picked, another bot receives the totes and returns them to inventory.
Benefits: The primary benefit of leveraging robotic flow rack is how dramatically it can reduce travel time within your warehouse by reducing how much time your human workers must travel through the facility to retrieve product. This translates into lower labor costs and significant throughput improvements.
3. Go-Fer Bot
The Go-Fer Bot is a Goods to Person picking system. The Go-Fer Bot retrieves shelving racks (up to 48” x 48” x 110” high) to a workstation or pod. The pod can have integrated Pick and Put to Light Systems that direct the operator to batch pick which item, how many and which open order to place the items in. This provides a fast and accurate picking environment.
Benefits: The Go-Fer Bot can provide 300% picking efficiencies with 99.9% accuracy levels and up to 2/3 space savings with a fast return on investment. The flexibility of this system is tremendous. Additional workstations, bots, and racks can be added and subtracted to the system as your business requires. This system is also ideal for rapid deployment and leasing.
4. Skypod Exotec
The Skypod Exotec system is a form of high-density Goods-to-Person AS/RS. The system relies upon a fleet of Skypod bots that travel into the storage area to retrieve product and deliver it to pick stations, where either a robotic arm or human worker picks the required items. The bot then returns the tote back into storage, retrieving the next piece of inventory to be picked.
Benefits: In addition to lowered labor costs and increased efficiency and accuracy, the Skypod system offers high-density storage that allows an operation to make better use of a constrained footprint. The system is also highly flexible and modular, allowing for growth as your business needs change.
Choosing the Right System for Your Needs
Which system is right for your operation will depend upon a lot of different variables, including your throughput requirements, the number of SKUs, the type of product, ceiling height, floor space, etc. This is why it’s so important to work with a trusted systems integrator to identify the best possible path forward.
Here at Conveyco, our manufacturer-agnostic, 7-step RightFIT methodology guides us in all of our projects. We’ll never recommend a system or technology unless we truly believe that it’s the right one for your needs. Contact us today to speak with one of our expert systems integrators about your project.