Finding Your Perfect Warehouse Robotics Partner
The use of robotics and automated solutions in the warehouse is set to escalate significantly, with predictions of double-digit growth across the sector as supply chain leaders look to digital technology to resolve fulfillment challenges.
As the robotics market becomes crowded and more vendors enter the field, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a shiny, proof of concept robotics solution with one that is a proven solution across specific uses.
How can a warehouse operator make better sense of the robotics market noise and filter out the chaos to evaluate solutions that meet their needs?
Factors to consider
There are many considerations the warehouse operator must make when evaluating robotics solutions and vendors, including the scale of investment and how quickly the solution offers a return on investment.
The solution offering the fastest route to profitability, may on the face of it, appear tempting but the operator must assess whether this option is the best one for their business.
The specific needs of the warehouse should be taken into careful consideration, including:
- the likelihood of impacting productivity,
- the flexibility to scale to changes in demand,
- the ability to meet performance metrics,
- how easy it is to deploy,
- and the ability to optimize throughput and deliver the cycle times needed to match customer delivery expectations.
Ultimately, the decision is about achieving optimal results in the shortest amount of time with minimal disruption to operations or business objectives.
What are the options?
In the case of robotics, the options are varied – as are the levels of performance.
- Load Carrying and Pulling Robotics and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) can be characterised by forklifts, mobile pallet conveyors and other forms of conveyor. Essentially, these involve the movement of goods around the warehouse but the impact on productivity is minimal. The same can be said for pulling robots or AGV (also known as tuggers), while conveyors are predominantly intended for point-to-point product movement.
- Person-to-Goods (P2G) models are largely used for moving racks of inventory on a QR code-based grid to a human picker. These can often be found in manufacturing operations where they are used for lineside supply. In fulfillment models, productivity gains are likely to be minimal as human pickers are directed to picking stations by the robot. The challenge for the operator here is that unproductive walking time on the part of the picker fails to be eliminated.
- Goods-to-Person (G2P) model eliminates the unproductive walking time found with the P2G model. In the G2P model, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) direct human workers to picking locations and collaborate with them by assisting in product selection as well as transporting it. In doing so, major gains in productivity can be achieved as unproductive time on the part of the picker is kept to a minimum.
Scoping the right solution
Weighing the warehouse robotic options will be critical in deciding which system offers the best solution to a particular set of requirements, including fulfillment, volumes, and cycle time management.
The fulfillment model is a strong determining factor in choosing which solution best meets requirements. Increasingly, industries are adopting a multi-faceted – or omnichannel – approach to selling their goods, incorporating a traditional bricks and mortar offering with an online (e-commerce) provision.
Omnichannel fulfillment requires a solution that offers flexibility in pick methodologies, including discrete, batch, and case picking.
The ease of fulfilment consideration involves an assessment on how quickly and easily orders can be turned around and goods dispatched. A well-planned warehouse will speed up this process, so flexibility on layout will be important. In the case of brownfield sites, changes in infrastructure may be required to ease the deployment process and optimize throughput.
A consideration on volumes will also aid the decision-making process, as facilities processing low order volumes – under 2,500 lines per day – may find a robotic solution ineffective as these numbers can be managed using traditional manual labor methods. However, warehouses with higher volumes of orders will require faster cycle times to achieve acceptable delivery targets.
The ability to effectively manage cycle times is a crucial KPI that collaborative robotics solutions can help achieve. It can have a significant impact on the performance of a fulfillment operation in various ways, helping deliver increases in units picked per hour, faster order fulfilment, increased throughput, and better productivity.
Achieving this performance will help ensure greater profitability and just as importantly, speed up ROI.
It is clear why supply chain leaders look to implement effective robotics solutions to improve the efficiency of their fulfillment operations.
However, selecting the right solution for their needs is not so straightforward. The onus is on the operator to conduct due diligence before making any decision.
Developing a trusted relationship with a vendor will take time but research of all the options available prior to entering into any agreement will help avoid problems further down the road.
For a full overview of the considerations on choosing the right robotic solution for your needs along with specific questions to ask when evaluating vendors, read Locus Robotics’ latest eBook – Finding Your Perfect Warehouse Robotics Fit.