Robotic Sortation in Your Warehouse: 4 Options
Automated sortation has been a game-changer in the order fulfillment and distribution industry, allowing operations to significantly increase their efficiency, order accuracy, and throughput while at the same time lowering their labor costs. The payoff is that businesses are capable of being more productive and profitable than they could ever be while leveraging manual sortation processes.
Today, businesses have more options than ever in how they choose to automate their sortation processes. In addition to the various conveyor-based sorters that immediately spring to mind, newer robotic options are now available as well. In many cases these options offer easier maintenance and increased flexibility to reconfigure as the operation changes, and require less floor space, which could make them an excellent alternative.
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What are AMRs?
The acronym AMR stands for Autonomous Mobile Robot. An AMR is any robot that can its surrounding environment in order to move without being overseen directly by an operator. This ability is achieved through an array of sophisticated on-board sensors, software, QR codes, maps, and Lidar which allow AMRs to understand and interpret their environment in order to function as a form of asynchronous transportation or movement.
AMRs are also called “bots” in the warehouse or order fulfillment industry, and they have many potential purposes. One of those purposes, as mentioned above, is robotic sortation.
Benefits of Robotic Sortation
Robotic sortation is any method of sortation that depends upon robotics (typically AMRs) to sort inventory or orders within a warehouse or distribution center. This can involve sorting items, units, cases, or totes into orders, or it can involve sorting orders for packaging and shipping.
Robotic sortation brings all of the same benefits of traditional automated sortation—increased order accuracy, increased efficiency, lower labor costs, etc. But it also has its own unique benefits which allow it to address some of the concerns outlined above.
Traditional automated sortation can be difficult to modify, move, grow or adjust once it has been implemented. Likewise, the time to implement can often range in the 12 to 24 months range. This forces the operation to project what their capacity or throughput needs will be in three, five, or ten years in order to be confident that they are selecting a system that will meet not only their present needs, but their future needs as well. In doing so, they are essentially locking capital, floor space, and other resources away in exchange for future throughput and capacity. For this reason, automated sortation is an ideal technology for larger and more mature businesses which do not expect to need to modify their operation and which have the resources to make the commitment of capital.
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AMR-based sortation, on the other hand, is inherently more flexible, because there is no central “sorter.” Each bot moves and operates independently of each other. For this reason, it is much easier to reconfigure an AMR-based sortation system than it is to reconfigure a traditional automated sorter. Because each unit operates independently, it is also much easier to add or remove capacity as necessary. This means that an operation can purchase only the capacity they need at the moment, while being confident that they will be able to rapidly scale their sortation processes alongside the business. For this reason, AMR-based sortation is often better suited for more agile businesses which do anticipate significant change within their operations.
It is worth being noted, however, that autonomous mobile robots typically cannot match the throughput requirements of the highest speed sorters, such as a tilt tray or crossbelt sorter. In operations with steady, highest throughput needs, robotic sortation needs to be analyzed to ensure it is the best solution for your needs. This is why it is so important to work with a trusted systems integrator who can help you understand your options and guide you to the best possible solution for your needs.
Options for Robotic Sortation
1. TiltSort-Bot (Tilt Tray Model)
The TiltSort-Bot (Tilt Tray Model) can be thought of as a tilt tray sorter on wheels. Each unit is equipped with a tray (either concave, divided, or customized) which holds the product to be sorted. Inventory is inducted either through manual or automated systems. The system allows human, robotic arm and, for very high speeds, A-Frame induction. The TiltSort-Bot delivers it to a sortation location. The location can be a tote, gaylord, bag, or chute. Chutes are ideal for fragile or non-standard items.
Benefits: Because the unit can be fitted with variable style trays, these bots can handle a wide variety of inventory, product, or parcels, including units which might otherwise roll. They offer high-speed sortation and are extremely flexible. Compared to a traditional tilt tray sorter, this robotic system can save up to 75% floor space. The unit can be configured at a range of heights in order to interact with whatever specific systems you have in your operation.
2. TiltSort-Bot (Crossbelt Model)
The TiltSort-Bot (Crossbelt Model) body can also be equipped with a flat crossbelt conveyor that can, aptly, be compared to crossbelt sorters. Each unit is equipped with its own crossbelt which the product is inducted on to be sorted. Upon inducting the product, the TiltSort-Bot delivers it to the required sortation point and then discharges the item by activating this belt. A sortation location is often a gaylord, mail bag, tote or cart depending on the items, velocity and quantity. The bot can handle single units, poly bags, cartons, totes, or parcels.
Benefits: The TiltSort-Bot is extremely versatile in the types of parcels and product that it can handle and sort. One of the major advantages of this option over the tilt tray model is that it can sort directly into gaylords, bags, or bins. The TiltSort-Bot is one of the fastest options currently available.
3. Hi-Tilt Bot (Tilt Tray Model)
The Hi-Tilt Bot (Tilt Tray Model) is similar in many ways to the TiltSort option discussed above and works in much the same way. Each unit is equipped with a tilt tray, which can be customized to meet the needs of your inventory. The primary difference, however, is that the tray is elevated so that it sits 43” off the ground. This makes the Hi-Tilt Bot an ideal interface for a range of systems, such as conveyors and workstations, that are significantly elevated off the ground.
Benefits: The Hi-Tilt Bot (Tilt Tray Model) brings with it all of the benefits of the TiltSort—the ability to handle a wide variety of inventory, product, or parcels; reduced floor space requirements, etc. As discussed above, the primary differentiator is that this is a taller model capable of interacting with taller interfaces.
4. Hi-Tilt-Bot (Crossbelt Model)
Like the Hi-Tilt Bot (Crossbelt Model) is, like the tilt tray model, similar in many ways to the TiltSort Bot. Each unit is fitted with its own individual miniature crossbelt sorter, which product is inducted onto and then diverted off of. The primary difference, again, is that the surface is significantly elevated (43” off the ground), allowing it to interact with other systems within your operation.
Benefits: The Hi-Tilt-Bot (Crossbelt Model) is, like the TiltSort model, one of the fastest AMR-based sortation options on the market. It can sort into gaylords, bags, or bins as required. The primary difference is that it is elevated so that it can interact with whatever other systems you may be leveraging in your operation.
Which solution is right for you?
Both traditional automated sortation and robotic automated sortation can be excellent options for your operation. Each has its positives and negatives which must be evaluated. For example, while robotic-based sortation will allow for more flexibility, lower entry cost, and the ability to scale, traditional automated sortation with a crossbelt sorter or tilt tray sorter will typically offer faster speeds and higher throughputs.
Ultimately, which is right for your operation will depend on your business model and its unique product mix, throughput, velocity and labor requirements. A trusted systems integrator can help you select the best possible solution for your needs. Schedule a consultation with one of our expert systems integrators to discuss your options!