Author: Tronserve admin
Thursday 29th July 2021 03:49 PM
Leveraging Automation in Warehousing, Part 1
The storage warehouse automation industry is rushing to utilize technology to maintain with the likes of Amazon. What do warehouse managers or supply chain managers need to figure out about the various automation options available? How do you know when your efficiency can be boosted by adding more machinery, or when automation will never actually help your process? Manufacturing.net sat down with Adam Kline, product director for warehouse management and supply chain intelligence at Manhattan Associates, for a two-part conversation to try to answer those questions.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What kind of robotic assists or automated machines are being rolled out in the supply chain?
In general, there are two different kinds with a ton of different subtypes: traditional automation includes conveyance, print-and-applies, maybe unit sorters and put walls and stuff that’s bolted to the ground. You may even put in ASRS [automated storage and retrieval] and shuttle systems, which are more modern and sophisticated. On the opposite side is where you get started to see things that are more dynamic in nature: robotic solutions, collaborative picking bots and those sort of things.
With regards to robotic assists there’s a handful different categories of those as well. We've come in contact with quite a few vendors. I'll highlight two of our partners to start. One is Locus Robotics, which provides collaborative picking bots. We are official go-to-market partners with them and have a couple of joint installations. Interesting thing about their solutions is they aren't there to replace people. That is one of the misnomers around robotics in the warehouse. Although some solutions are intended to be a headcount reducer, I think a majority are there to help make people more efficient in the DC and help make your people more efficient. With a traditional goods-to-person system like the old style Kiva [Systems] bots prior to Amazon buying them, the intent was the picking would kind of go away.
Those bots would go from a container to a packing post where people would be at a picking station. With new bots the pickers will still be out and about in the store section and the bots will come and sort of visit! I say that simply because there's just a bit of personality with these bots, which is interesting. And the picker will pick out into their totes, hit a button and move away. And the bots will go to another area and visit another picker. You have two different resources, the bots and the pickers, both of whom are moving. The pickers are confined to a certain area and the bots are free to move around. That is a pretty good example of collaborative picking. Interesting thing about it is you are relieving the amount of travel for each picker but not reducing it to zero. The physical movement of items from rack to tote is still in the picker’s hands. The bots are generally an excellent flexible conveyance. Locus claims a pretty high improvement in terms of total efficiency with respect to each picker. We require to see more results before quoting their figures, but it looks like more efficient.
Second is Kindred AI, a picker. Typically you either pick stock to a put wall or a tote. This bot is a replacement for a put wall. It can be different from what you see in other warehouses because everything is usually straight and this is actually round. When you first see it it’s almost a bit disruptive. When you get closer you see the tote is dumped into a hopper inside this sort-bot, and a robotic arm picks up each individual item. As it picks it up, an array of scanners ensures it gets a good read on the barcode. As quickly as it gets the barcode, it sorts to a bin to order. It can continue to do this as items and orders come in. As soon as that is complete, some one can pack it from the other side. You've got automated the sorting process. These two solutions could perhaps work together, although I don’t know if anyone has done it that way.
Some directors I have got spoken to have mentioned that automation is certainly not a replacement for labor, but a reaction to a dwindling labor pool. Have you seen this across industries?
We positively have seen it. Our warehouse management solution has a number of attributes that are worth bringing up. We have a labor management system too, which is complimentary. Over the past two to three years we have brought our warehouse management and labor management capabilities very close together. You’d be hard pressed to know where one ends and the other starts. All the reasons that you just mentioned have driven us to that decision. I don’t have percentages at my hands, but if you look at the volume of qualified applications for a given position directionally, they have dropped significantly. One of my colleagues who manages our labor management solution brought a stat that said more and more companies, 25 to 30 percent, are now hiring warehouse workers who have a criminal record. The sheer number of qualified applicants has gone down, so the quality of applicants has gone down. Lots of our clients are in search of alternatives, looking for ways to make their good workers even more efficient.
Like with the sort bots, these are kind of a labor replacement in that specific area in contrast to pick bots that work with people. This doesn't necessarily come with a headcount reducing, but those workers might be moved around.
This article is originally posted on MANUFACTURING.NET