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The Future of Warehousing

The best way to predict the future is to create it 

This quote was said decades ago by Peter Drucker, the celebrated Austrian-American management consultant who laid the foundation of modern business corporations. Needless to mention, the quote holds true in today’s context more than ever. Ground-breaking innovations are constantly elevating consumers’ expectations, and if not ‘prediction’, but an ‘estimation’ of the future keeps a business ahead of the curve.  

While this is the growth reasoning for keeping an eye to the future; if done correctly, pre-emptive measures act as a cushion for your business to survive any troughs and crests in the supply chain ecosystem.  

The past few years riddled with frequent supply chain disruptions has taught the world about the importance of an agile and resilient supply chain. As a result, discussions about the future of supply chains and warehousing have come to the fore.  

Businesses are looking at warehousing technologies which can help them establish ‘Lights Out’ or ‘Dark Warehouses’, i.e., having autonomous operations without any human intervention at all. With this changing trend, it is plausible to assume that businesses which stay ahead of any similar challenges will experience multi-fold growth, while others will expose themselves to risks during the turbulent times. 

This article will discuss some key trends and innovations which are likely to shape a resilient future for warehousing. 

Human Robot Collaboration 

With the evolution of advanced automation technologies, humans and machines will closely work together for all warehouse operations. This is not entirely driven by the need for more efficient warehousing operations, but also by workforce issues faced by the world in recent times. The ongoing global great resignation, ageing population is several parts of the world, along with times of self-isolation, have all pointed towards the need for human engagement in warehouse functions which are mentally stimulating, ergonomically suitable, and can be performed remotely. Also, there is also a rising concern for safety as companies begin to stack pallets high up on the shelves. 

With the number of warehouses adopting robotics and automation every single year, robots will perform most of the heavy lifting in warehouses. Humans thereafter shall be limited to performing more supervisory, technical, or analytical tasks, which are complex and mentally stimulating.  

Present day automated warehouses have respective dedicated areas for human and robot movements. However, very soon a heterogeneous fleet of humans and robots shall be guided by a common software platform in the same space to collaborate with each other, without causing any interruption or safety concerns. For example, humans equipped with Augmented Reality (AR) devices shall be guided via the most optimal path to perform warehouse operations and troubleshooting any robot or system. Slowly the world is going to move towards more autonomous operations where human engagement on the warehouse floor shall be limited. 

 5G and Edge Computing 

Latency, limited bandwidth, network interruptions, and incapability to process rising data volumes, can cause bottlenecks for warehouse processes; and with the number of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) devices on the rise, the amount of data is only going to grow. To address these issues, warehouse automation is likely to reap the benefits of 5G network combined with Edge Computing architecture. 

5G is the latest high speed and ultra-low latency network, which is expected to boost several technologies from Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR) to Virtual Reality (VR), and more. As opposed to cloud-based and centralized data servers, Edge Computing architecture enables data storage and computing at a location closer to the data source. When combined with a network like 5G, vast amounts of data can be transmitted and computed almost instantaneously, ensuring real-time tracking and decision-making throughout warehouse operations. With real-time data, businesses can boost system maintenance, and provide better customer experience. As a result, any blind spots or down time shall be eliminated, therefore avoiding any loss of revenue. 

5G more particularly boosts the adoption of flexible forms of automation and lays a new paradigm for Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). In future, we are likely to see AMRs making some of the decision-making themselves, such as obstacle avoidance, path planning, navigation, and functional safety. On the other hand, other tasks can be offloaded for the edge server, such as fleet management and analytics, task allocation, etc. With this distribution of workload, it is believed that businesses will be able to derive the highest efficiencies and better consumer satisfaction. Better customer experience in a highly competitive environment, is likely to determine the future of businesses, as result not just increasing margins, but also driving revenues. 

Newer supply chain paradigms like MFCs and NFCs 

To tackle intense market competition and rising consumer expectations, businesses have taken their warehouses closer to the customers with Micro-Fulfilment Centres (MFCs) and Nano-Fulfilment Centres (NFCs).  

MFCs and NFCs are strategically located small-scale warehouses, which can quickly deliver products to customers. Traditional fulfilment from the mother-hub, is time-consuming and adds to the logistics costs of businesses. 

It is becoming an increasing trend to have MFCs and NFCs which are equipped with fully automated automation systems where companies can pick, pack and ship orders within few hours. AMRs which can quickly move products, and intelligent software which can predict consumer behaviour, form the backbone of these fulfilment centres. MFCs and NFCs occupy a very small floor space, and it is not unusual to find them in existing stores or small warehouses situated in a densely populated area. A network of MFCs and NFCs can give businesses a competitive edge in their industry.  

Autonomous Operations driving Commercial Growth through Supply Chains 

It is possible that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) may reach its saturation in a couple of years. Businesses have already made large capital expenditures into implementation of ERPs and automation of repetitive tasks, and this has been crucial in reducing their overheads and deriving better margins. However, the future is likely to witness more intelligent warehouse automation which will be capable of autonomous operations, ensuring that automation initiatives are directly linked to commercial goals.  

In a warehouse with autonomous operations, all processes like inwarding, storage, picking, sorting, packing, and dispatch are performed through Robots and other automated systems without any human intervention (Lights Out/Dark Warehouses). Most warehouses around the world have implemented some form of automation, and therefore will be looking for ‘interoperable automation systems’, where they don’t have to scrap their existing automation. In interoperable automation systems, robots, other automation systems, and software platforms, irrespective of their developer, seamlessly communicate with each other to execute warehouse operations. This means automation system providers will have to offer more hardware-agnostic software and software-agnostic hardware.  

With interoperability, warehouses will have increased level of safety, information traceability leading to advanced analytics, and ability to design flexible workflows according to changing business requirements. As a result, there will be no siloed software systems, lesser inefficiencies, lesser operational constraints, and reduced logistics and maintenance cost. 

With the boost that 5G and Edge Computing are likely to bring to Artificial Intelligence (AI), businesses are going to integrate siloed systems in their warehouses, delegate more complex tasks to intelligent automation, and automate tasks in sync with business objectives. The idea is going to be to capture real-time data, generate real-time analytics, and execute real-time decisions completely by robots and other automation systems. 

With continuous improvements in analytics, intelligent software of the warehouses will be able to analyse and predict customer behaviour and needs, therefore driving further profitability. Businesses will be looking at warehousing innovations for commercial growth, rather than only achieving operational efficiencies.  

Flexible Automation: The Future of Warehousing

The global warehouse automation market valued at USD 18.9 Billion in 2021 is projected to grow at a CAGR of 14.8% to USD 64.6 Billion by the year 2030. Today, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are large contributors to this burgeoning valuation. The market for AMRs alone is expected to cross the USD 5 Billion mark by 2026 with an expected CAGR of 32%. This automation revolution comes in the backdrop of an ever-increasing number of SKUs driven by growing customer demands, increased cost of real estate, and the resulting space requirements to store materials for order fulfillment.  

This transition towards automation began with conventional ‘fixed’ automation, a kind of automation that requires large infrastructural requirements. The robots comprised a wide range from carton shuttles, pallet shuttles, conveyors, and other forms of fixed automation that would run on fixed infrastructures like racks and rails. However, with the rise of multichannel order fulfillment clubbed with organized retail, and innovative trends such as Micro-fulfillment Centers (MFCs) and Nano Fulfillment Centers (NFCs) fueled by the rise of E-Commerce industry – with inherent market behaviors of fluctuating demands, peak seasons, and complex last-mile deliveries, necessitated the need for automation solutions which are scalable and can be easily installed. As a result, the world witnessed the rise of the flexible automation solutions, which broadly consists of AMRs and AGVs. Flexible solutions allow businesses to cater to fluctuating demands, enhance accuracy and safety, and make their operations future-ready. Easy to integrate with the existing infrastructure, and with little requirement for fixed infrastructure; flexible automation allows workflows and processes to be optimized and changed on the fly to achieve maximum throughput. 

Addverb has been a pioneer in delivering such flexible automation solutions. One such partner where Addverb deployed a flexible solution is Janio Asia – a leading third-party logistics (3PL) solution provider in Singapore, where a sortation solution, consisting of Addverb’s AGV Zippy 25 (Guided Sortation Robot), was designed and delivered, which allowed the facility to achieve a sortation rate of 4,300 parcels/ hr, while cutting significant cost. The solution can be scaled in the future, according to the customer’s requirements. 

Another global giant Panasonic worked with Addverb to scale and achieve accurate inventory visibility. The solution, comprising Addverb’s AGV Zippy 40 (Guided Sortation Robot) enabled Panasonic’s facility to achieve 100% accuracy in material movement, from the production area to the staging area. The throughput of the facility increased, allowing Panasonic to meet seasonal peaks and demand fluctuations with tremendous flexibility in its day-to-day operations. 

Flexible solutions enable businesses to scale and enhance accuracy and productivity while cutting down their cost, and providing businesses with a fast ROI. Such solutions are highly modular and have a high system uptime. Their applications range across every material handling process including picking, putting away, sorting, returns handling, replenishment, material movement, etc. The onset of an ultra-fast 5G network will also push the adoption of the Robots as a Service (RaaS) model in the global automation market. The warehouses of tomorrow need innovation now, and the innovation that is going to stand the test of time lies in flexible automation solutions. 

The Importance of Fleet Management System in Logistics

Fleet management systems (FMS) have greatly reduced operating expenses while enhancing efficiency significantly, transforming how many businesses run from end to end; this gives opportunities to reduce operating expenses while improving efficiency dramatically. Fleet management operations enable companies to organise, manage, and coordinate their fleets to boost efficiency and reduce costs. Fleet management has developed over the previous two decades, with more organisations using technology to manage their fleet better.  

The Fleet management system is being used to manage and control several robots that operate within the premises. FMS allows for the centralised control of the robot fleet, allowing users and operators to handle the various mobile robotics systems from multiple devices using standard communication protocols. Robots may be accessible from anywhere (office, warehouse, home, etc.) and via any device (mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.). With round-the-clock mobile robot operation across the factory, it helps to avoid bottlenecks and downtime. 

A typical mobile robotic deployment will result in the deployment of many AMRs (autonomous mobile robots). When you have more than one AMRs running in your facility, you will need a fleet management software solution to oversee your fleet’s operations. 

FMS is an extra software program that can be implemented remotely in the cloud or on an on-premises server at your location. The FMS must have direct communication with the AMRs in your facility. This connection is usually made through Wi-Fi; thus, the FMS must have access to your wireless network. 

Addverb’s Movect – Fleet Management System centrally manages the robot fleet end to end, allowing the operator to perform different tasks through mobile robotics systems with a host of robots. Movect operates this fleet of robots through effective coordination, accurate control, and efficient scheduling. Complex algorithms deploy each robot on the most optimised. With the interactive dashboard, the end-user can manage and control all robots’ functionalities, visualise all workstations, and make dedicated decisions based on the current state of the environment.  

SAY HELLO

Each Autonomous Mobile Robot has software that allows the robot to be controlled in real-time and moved efficiently within the designated region. 

A centralised Traffic Management System manages the AMR fleet by optimising task assignments and fleet movements, sending transport instructions to the AMR sorters, and monitoring traffic. The AMR Traffic Management System also extends battery life by controlling AMR battery levels, charging locations, and features such as current. 

ALSO READ : The Rise of Automation in 3PL Industry

The AMR software package can benefit extensive distribution facilities, local depots, and final sorting locations. It also interfaces with warehouse information systems such as warehouse management systems (WMS) and warehouse control systems (WCS). 

Features:  

Fleet Monitoring: It monitors the location of each robot, status, battery level, mission in progress, etc. 

Task Allocation: It assigns and optimises work to each robot based on order quantity and dynamically shuffles tasks to maximise efficiency. 

Cooperative Path Planning: Centralised path planning with highway rules for obstacle avoidance for wait spot allocation and deadlock resolution. 

Robot and Battery Manager: Charging station management with opportunistic battery charging management to handle exceptions well. 

Traffic and Collision Management: Prioritised order handling and robot heatmap to avoid traffic congestion. 

Benefits:    

Realtime Tracking: Tracks the location and details of each robot and distributes the missions accordingly. 

Customisable: Movect can be configured according to requirements such as email alerts etc. 

Advanced Analytics: Movect helps in data-driven decision making. 

Increased Efficiencies: Movect calculates an Optimal Route for the entire fleet resulting in efficient movements. 

High Accuracy: Continuous tracking & monitoring of MHEs (Material Handling Equipment) enables perfect streamlining of the operations. 

User Management: It is easy to manage users and their privileges on Movect. 

Our product Zippy is a ground marker-based mobile robot used for order sortation in a controlled environment. It uses a barcode reader & another sensor to precisely follow the fleet command. The fleet management system (FMS) directs Zippy to follow the best path to avoid a congested route to the destination chute. Zippy follows the barcodes and drops the load into the destination chute. Dynamo, on the other hand, visualises the operating area through Lidar. The FMS ensures seamless movement and calculates the best path for a specific mission. The 2-level sensor mechanism ensures safety, precision, and obstacle avoidance, making it the perfect robotically in human-led operations. 

Movect provides real-time tracking of robots and streamlines their mobility. FMS can do the planning, and mobile robots have achieved positive results for Fortune 500 companies. 

The concept has various aspects that can help you move your business forward and differentiate yourself from your competitors. If you do not have this technology, now is the time to obtain it before it is too late. The logistics sector is rapidly developing; now is the time to capitalise on all available opportunities. 

How Automated Baggage Handling System Can Help You

Airports have already been permeated by robots. A handful of them are already utilizing robots for routine tasks such as cleaning airport floors and presenting information to passengers. As technology advances, a plethora of robots will be used at terminals all over the world. Most airport operations and procedures will be automated and streamlined by robots. Airport robots may become commonplace soon, dramatically altering the way we travel.

Manually transporting luggage from the airport terminal to the plane is time-consuming, expensive, and labor-intensive. It has been demonstrated that automating check-in conveyors, luggage screening, sorting, and reclamation improves process efficiency, passenger experience, and safety.

Every day, airports must handle and classify thousands of pieces of luggage due to an increase in the number of people travelling. This is only achievable with conveyor systems that operate properly and without interruption.

Automated baggage handling systems and sortation in airports not only improve operations and efficiency but also provide a good platform for the precise coordination of complex time-critical procedures involved in air travel.

We are at the forefront of revamping airport supply chain operations and preparing them for the unavoidable requirement for sanitization at every contact point through smart automation; solutions that increase cargo movement speed and performance to make air travel hassle-free.

Why are airports adopting robotics and automation?

Airports are using robotics and automation because customers have complained about waiting for baggage trolleys for at least 10-15 minutes, and early luggage handling is another source of frustration for airport management. Robots can drastically cut the amount of time passengers spend in airports and streamline most present operations. Although robots would primarily serve customers, they will benefit airline corporations and airport authorities by encouraging more people to fly. Here are a few ways that airport robots will streamline operations, benefiting both businesses and passengers.

Early Baggage Handling-  AI-robots can help to streamline the baggage-handling procedure from check-in at the airport through check-out at the destination airport. AI-robots can carry passengers’ bags and can replace the manual procedure of passengers transporting them on trolleys. The inbuilt sensors allow the robot to travel alongside the passenger, decreasing their workload. RFID tags placed on the luggage may subsequently be scanned by robots and sent to robots at the destination airport, resulting in a more efficient airport baggage handling procedure. As a result, robots can entirely handle and ease passenger luggage worries. As travelers prioritize comfort when flying, this might lead to an increase in people selecting air travel over other modes of transportation.

Better Airport Security-  Airport security is a key concern in today’s world. Airport robots equipped with computer vision, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technologies have the potential to improve airport security. Threats can be detected by robots using inbuilt face recognition technology. They may scan airport terminals for questionable persons or those behaving strangely. The robots can inform security personnel or even apprehend the suspect.

Our Offerings for Airports:

Decimator – UV Sanitization Bots– The viral epidemic has necessitated sanitization and minimizing contact sites prior to passenger entry and exit at the airport. We provide automated solutions to sterilize every contact point within the airport, from the trolleys to the plane. For this, we are providing a Decimator (Special Purpose Robot). It may be utilized for a variety of purposes, including thermal scanning, fumigation, sanitization, and contactless disinfection. It is designed for indoors disinfection and emits rays in all 360-degree ensuring a kill rate of 99.9%. Sanitation would be possible at the stand. Mobile robots are being used to automate the procedure. Fumigation would be essential for the sanitization trolley.

Trolley Tracking- According to a study, there were no trolleys accessible at the airport, thus, to tackle this issue, we designed a dynamic real-time trolley tracking system, which works with beacons. The solutions use two types of beacons- Fixed and Mobile. The fixed beacons would be fixed on the stationary pillars for mapping and localization whereas, mobile beacons would be attached or screwed on the exterior surface. They can also be placed on the plastic envelope glued underneath the trolley. With this tracking system we are trying:

  • To improve the availability of trolleys.
  • To optimize the inventory levels.
  • Eliminate the manual searching process.
  • To track damaged trolleys.

Early Baggage Handling- Baggage handling is the process of delivering passenger luggage from a departure airport’s check-in station to a plane cargo hold, then to a collecting point at an arrival airport. A baggage handling system (BHS) is meant to count bags, check bag weights, balance loads, screen luggage for security purposes, transfer bags via an airport conveyor belt system, and automatically read bag information. Modern airport automation streamlines material movement and transfer across the airport, making the entire process of carrying luggage and early baggage handling through convoying across many sites a smooth, hassle-free, and error-free experience.

For baggage handling we provide Dynamo Sorter for carrying baggage and Quadron for an early baggage handling system.

The baggage is taken from the fixed/mobile check-in system utilizing Dynamo, and the AI fleet management system guides robots to check-in stations based on the load, and when the luggage is checked, it is delivered to the appropriate airline.

We designed our early bag system to store and retrieve all bags in a single container. We have included total redundancy in the system. All storage sites may also be accessed manually, and the required platforms are given. We provide Quadron for early baggage handling systems.

In the airport, we are implementing robotic bagging and palletization technologies. BLE Tracking, Advanced Security Measures, Smart Conveyor Solutions, and Disinfection Measures are among the airport automation packages we provide.

We are also introducing ATRS (Automatic Tray Retrieval System), which is supposed to increase productivity, decreasing waiting times, and enhance passenger flow. ATRS is designed to fulfill the demands of every airport, from the smallest to the largest international airport. Design and engineering innovation help to significantly reduce queues while keeping the airport’s highest security requirements. The modular design provides significant system flexibility, allowing development of various configurations based on the demands of each airport. Airport workers can spend less time on secondary operations such as empty tray handling and more time on security procedures and quality of service.

The integration of an end-to-end baggage handling system not only allows airports to expand and better serve their airline customers and passengers, but also positions modern airports as leaders in baggage handling efficiency, increasing baggage traceability and security at every stage of the process.

Pre-requisites to be considered before implementing carton shuttle solution

Do we need to consider some prerequisites while implementing an automated system like a carton shuttle?

In Goods to person systems like carton shuttle shelving, orders are store, picked, and retrieved in a hodgepodge before delivering to the customer. This system has contributed to increasing the overall throughput of picking, allowing the businesses to meet their customer demands through improved order accuracy. However, to successfully deploy these systems, a few critical calculations such as process throughput, space capacity, product profile, operating plan, etc along with the technical requirement such as mentioned below need to be done carefully.

An Analysis before implementation

A thorough analysis and inspection of the warehouse, understanding the current throughput and operation is required to be done before even proposing the carton shuttle solution. It also requires a detailed report on the existing process with the average time of order fulfillment and concluding how the implementation of carton shuttles can improve the productivity and hence remove process bottlenecks like delayed order or improper inventory control.

How to compare & calculate carton shuttles productivity?

The throughput calculation considers the current SKU pace, average units fulfilled per order, and provides the expected process accuracy to be achieved by deploying these automatic systems. Interestingly, these systems are capable of picking orders of say 300 picks per hour whereas the traditional manual order picking may bid for utmost 100 picks per hour per operator. Also, these systems provide the flexibility to increase the throughput by adding more of such systems into the fulfillment center which then conflicts with the operating space available. So, space capacity is another such scrutiny that needs to be addressed before implementing the system. To get higher throughputs, increasing the height of the aisles to the maximum permissible height,i.e, 100 feet can harm the overall accuracy of the order fulfillment.

Number of SKUs –

Especially industries like E-commerce, retail, spare parts division, fulfillment centers where there are large no. of SKUs are there & product profile contributes plays a major role in determining which products need to be handled by these systems. Because these systems have technological limits on the dimensions of products and their weight, hence they need to be considered while designing automated goods to person systems.

Aisle depth:

To increase the scalability in the future, aisle length of this system can be expanded to a staggering 100 meters, depending on the volume and required throughputs, however, a deep study has to be done on the load flexibility of the single- or multi-deep storage of containers, trays, and cartons of various sizes.

A few more points to consider before installation are:

We shouldn’t ignore the mundane yet important technical requirements such as

  • Installing tracks,
  • Limit switches,
  • Network interfaces and,
  • Integration with industry’s resource management software (WCS or even WMS) with utmost focus on safety examinations.
  • Laying tracks with aligned electrical Busbar and a steady power necessity of 230 VAC, 50Hz and single-phase constitutes the primary installation desideratum after setting up the aisles, and, besides, it also necessitates the positioning of barcode labels. These barcode tapes are used by carton shuttles for distance measurements, and if the placement of these barcodes is not coordinated, they may result in poor distance measurements and in turn, affects the positioning correction by the system.
  • Along with track installation, the system also needs safety forethoughts such as placement of limit switches and external caging with automated door locking mechanism, usually, a magnetic coil-based door locks for aisles containing shuttles.
  • Software Solution – while considering the integration of WMS solutions with carton shuttles demand installation of network APs across the critical network drop locations with access to the shuttle’s server. Finally, the installation prerequisites narrow down to one last step of configuring the shuttle’s network devices and tuning the drive parameters.

An advance and scalable carton shuttle system enable accelerated picking, order sequencing and order fulfillment, driving the storage efficiency through the ceiling. With Addverb, being the first largest manufactures of carton shuttle in India, we bring a diverse and wide industry exposure in implementing a carton shuttle system. To know more reach us at automate@addverb.in

What are the types of ASRS Systems & their Applications?

Automated storage and Retrieval Systems enable businesses involved in order fulfilment and warehousing operations to automate their material and inventory handling functions. But there is never a one size fits all. The ASRS solutions available in the market can handle different types, volumes and velocities of inventory at variable speeds to ensure varying throughput demand for efficient material handling.

It can be broadly divided on the following basis:

  • Load based
  • Bot based
  • Carousel based
  • Miscellaneous

Load based Automated storage and retrieval system

Unit-Load ASRS

Unit load ASRS explanation

Unit-Load AS/RS are larger systems that typically store pallet loads. The system can take loads as large as 2500 Kgs and place them on pallets or within a container of that size, to handle odd shaped goods. In a crane-based unit load ASRS, it features one or more narrow aisles of storage rack structures specially designed for pallet racking. The structure can reach up to the height of 30 meters which is more than enough for a typical warehouse. The storage and retrieval machine (SRM) travels between the racking in two dimensions, instructed by software which dictates where and how items are placed in a particular location. Usually, the system contains one SRM per aisle. But in a high throughput system, multiple SRMs can be dedicated to single aisle and in case it is a slower system, one SRM can be allocated to multiple aisles.

Mini-load ASRS

Mini load ASRS explaination

Miniload ASRS are smaller systems that store items in totes, trays or cartons which typically weighs less than 50kgs. Similar to unit loader, miniload ASRS are generally composed of two aisles of narrow racking structure, between which an SRM moves in two dimensions. One of the main benefits of mini-load ASRS is its modularity. The height of the system can range from 8-12 meters, depending upon the requirement and space available.

Micro-load stocker ASRS

Micro-load ASRS are self-contained structures which store products densely into bins, stored and retrieved by an extractor and deliver the item to the operator at a pick face. The pick face of a micro-load stocker often uses a conveyor to bring a queue of items. There are different systems of micro-load stockers available in the market and each model performs the storage and retrieval operation in a distinct way. Micro-load stockers are typically integrated with other ASRS system, which serves to the buffer and stage items which reduce the need for conveyors in the warehouse and eventually increase the available floor space. It is especially suited for industries where picking and kitting operation requires fast throughput.

Bot-based Automated storage and retrieval system

Shuttle based ASRS

Bot based ASRS_Addverb

Shuttle based ASRS technology is suitable for both FIFO and LIFO configurations and deep-lane or shallow-lane storage structures. There are many kinds of shuttle based systems available in the market depending upon the shape, load, size etc and the nature of inventory. In this system, SRM is a shuttle or small robot. When an item is requested, it moves from the workstation to the racking where the items are stored. It retrieves the item and travels back to the workstation. In other systems, manual labor plus conveyors are used to move items from racking to the workstations.

For warehouses with low ceilings or other space restrictions for example cold storage, this type of ASRS solutions is the most suitable choice.

Floor Robots ASRS

Floor Robot Warehouse

Why go to the storage area when the storage area can come to you. Floor robots are self-mobile ASRS solution, store inventory on a portable storage shelving structure. This structure is retrieved and transported an area where the operator needs it and are moved across the facility by using AMRs. The structure returns to its allocated space once the operator selects the required item. The solution is suitable for slow to medium moving inventory. The solution is scalable as the operation can be easily expandable by increasing the number of AMRs into the system. The standard weight capacity for this solution is 500kgs per shelving system.

Carousel based Automated storage and retrieval system

Vertical Carousel

vertical carousal_Blog

The vertical carousel comprised of a series of carriers attached to a chain, which travels in a vertical loop around a track like a Ferris wheel. This solution is suitable for slow to medium moving inventory. On the command of the operator, the items are safely and quickly delivered to the ergonomically positioned workstation. Manufacturers introduce new additions to the solution, but the main concept of the technology remains the same.

The solution can be made scalable with the addition of light or voice-based picking technology that enables picking of multiple orders simultaneously. It typically offers the capacity of 750kg per carrier, the vertical carousel is a cost-effective and reliable solution.

Horizontal Carousel

Horizontal Carousel_Blog

Horizontal carousel is a highly dense storage structure where the bins are mounted on an oval track which rotates horizontally to perform storage and retrieval function. The solution is designed to store slow and medium moving inventory and can handle items and cases weighing up to 100kg. The structure is often installed in groups called pods to generate maximum speed and achieve maximum throughput. The solution can be made scalable with the addition of light or voice-based picking technology that enables picking of multiple orders simultaneously. This structure is also equipped with an automated door system which creates an enclosed solution. Overall, the system allows excellent space utilization and high storage density.

Miscellaneous

Vertical lift module ASRS

Vertical Lift Module_Blog

Although designed primarily for storing and retrieving slow to medium-moving products, VLMs (Vertical Lift Modules) are important components on the system side of supply chain flow. It is one of the best solutions for the facilities where the ceiling height goes up to 100 feet and have heavy items that require lifting assistance for the operator to handle them safely.

VLM consists of two columns of trays, parallelly facing each other and a mechanical extractor between them like the elevator. The mechanical extractor travels up and down between the columns automatically retrieving and storing the items from these trays stored on the columns. In warehouses, inventory is stored in these columns and by entering the tray number on the built-in control pad, the extractor triggers and retrieves the items from the columns by intelligently detecting the location of that item. This operation is applicable for extraction as well as replenishment of material inside the vertical storage module.

Hence, ASRSs can be relatively small but they are one of the most important subsets of equipment within a larger warehouse environment. ASRS systems can provide great value in all sectors but have special significance in Food & Beverages, Consumer Goods, Pharma, Dairy, Cold Store, and Metals. These systems can serve as the primary means of storing and retrieving product in the system. Depending on the system, AS/RSs can handle loads consisting of small parts or large, or multi-ton units.

Bus bar vs cable based/serial Pick to light – Pros & Cons

Lately light directed picking technology has emerged as the most popular picking methodology & it has become an integral part of order fulfilment especially for ecommerce, retail, FMCG & auto components..etc industries. In case of smaller warehouses, to achieve the required throughputs, and to reduce manual errors; in case of larger warehouses, Pick to light are used for various applications like zone picking, cluster picking, batch picking etc. Whatever be the application, the goal is to amplify the picking with the speed, accuracy, and the ease of working offered by PTLs.

Every pick to light device will be assigned with a location code of the bin/shelf/rack/workstation/position on which this device is mounted and the software of the pick to light device communicates constantly with the warehouse management system or ERP solution or any warehouse control system. Whenever a picking operation needs to be performed, picker scans the barcode of the crate/tote in which the ordered items need to be kept after picking, correspondingly the pick to light device of the location which contains those ordered items gets illuminated along with indicating the no. of items to be picked on the LED display. After picking the items, the picker must acknowledge the pick by pressing the light, this information will be duly communicated in real time with the WMS/WCS/ERP software of the warehouse.

Despite the very light hardware of the product, it is very critical to properly implement it in terms of mounting the device and properly program & integrate in terms of software. Since the early days of pick to light invention, pick to lights have been installed using the serial cable system, where in the devices will be mounted on the racks and get power connection using these serial wired cables. However, the distribution challenges of the serial cables for the electronic power transmission prompted the way for the busbar trunking system. So, the same transformation has been passed on to the implementation of PTLs, so bus-bar enabled PTL mountings are a common sight of the warehouse today.

At Addverb, we offer Rapido, our pick to light solution in both cable based and bus-bar methods; similarly, many players also do offer both these solutions. So, through this blog, let us understand the differences between busbar vs cable based PTL implementations.

  1. Design friendliness – Bus bar based PTLs are compact in design, hence occupy less space, whereas cable based PTL systems require more space because of bending radiuses and the spacing required between parallel cables. Hence busbar based PTL will be beneficial when there are many PTL implementations. In terms of aesthetics and maintaining the entire system, busbar based PTLs look clean and easy to do maintenance activities instead of the clumsy cable based PTL system.
  2. Implementation ease– Cable based pick to light systems are resource intensive both efforts & cost, whereas with modular structure, the busbar trunking PTL installation is quite faster and installation error are practically zero due to the safe and user-guided connection technology.
  3. Flexibility — In the busbar trunking system, PTL units will be mounted on the tap off points of the trunking system, this creates a variable distribution system for linear and / or area-wide, distributed power supply for the entire PTL system. This provides flexibility and unlike the fixed cable-based units, it doesn’t require intensive planning and implementation. The easy retrofit nature of the busbar based PTLs plays a critical role in scaling up or down the entire PTL system.
  4. Voltage fluctuations – Busbars have better resistance than cables, especially to short circuits due to their strong design architecture vis-à-vis to the traditional cable based PTL system. The minimum distance between the conductors inside the busbars induces less resistance and the optimal distribution current density reduces the resistance. This in turn reduces the voltage loss when compared with the traditional cable system.
  5. Reduced Loss of Energy:Busbars have lower resistance than cables. Hence the loss of energy due to transmission and distribution is lower in Busbars. Busbars also have a limited growth of reactive power to operate compared to cable systems.
  6. Highly durable – Since the design is compact and has a metal casing with well-defined surface, busbars can absorb heat generated while transmissions and distribution of electricity in the walls of the enclosure. The system of cooling is much better than traditional cabling system.
  7. Increased safety – Busbars are fitted with a steel casing and the chances of getting damaged by human actions/rodents/any other such accident is lesser as compared to cables, on the other hand cables are more exposed and are susceptible to the environmental changes. Also, busbar trunking system will have standardized products across its implementation, as against the cable system.

The above is a short comparison of busbar vs cable-based pick to light systems. Despite being superior in its functionality and safety aspects, still cable based pick to light system is preferable to some majorly due to the implementation challenges, familiarity with cable based PTLs or the structural systems present inside the warehouse/a facility.

Navigation & Safety Systems that drive Mobile Robots

Navigation & Safety Systems that drive Mobile Robots is the core feature of mobile robots that enables the robot to direct itself from the current position to the desired destination. Navigation of mobile robots has been traditionally understood as solving the problem proposed by these three questions:

  • Where am I?
  • What are the other places related to me?
  • How do I get to other places from here?

These questions involve the determination of a collision-free path from one point to another while minimizing the total cost of the associated path. Depending on the nature of the environment, path planning can be divided into a static and dynamic environment. In a static environment, everything is static except mobile robot where obstacles change their place to time, it is also referred to as static path planning. And if obstacles change their place and orientation to time, then it is referred to as dynamic path planning. Mobile robot in a dynamic environment is finding the shortest possible path from an arbitrary starting point towards a defined goal which needs to be safe (obstacle avoidance) and smooth movement as well as possible.

Popular Mobile Robot Navigation Technologies

With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) & Industry 4.0 mobile robots have been used for many applications in various fields such as industry, space, defence, and other social sectors. They have been used for material handling, picking, special applications such as disinfectant robots, etc. Therefore, an intelligent mobile robot is required that could travel autonomously in various static and dynamic environments. Several techniques have been applied for mobile robot navigation and obstacle avoidance. Let’s understand some of them,

LIDAR Based Navigation –

There are several ways for sensors to map and track the environment and estimate mobile robot positioning.

LIDAR – Light Detection and Ranging technology is an essential ingredient in robotic autonomy and navigation. It allows mobile robots to extend outside controlled situations and pre-defined task functions in unpredictable and unfamiliar situations. Lidar sensors provide a constant stream of high-resolution, 3D information about the mobile surroundings, including locating the position of objects and people. Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology enables the indoor capabilities of a robot with the Lidar data. The benefits provided by SLAM technology include “easy navigation without reliance on external technologies and real-time formation of 3D maps with reduced cost and power requirement”.

Vision-Based Navigation –

Vision system of the robot allows the mobile robot to see its environment as a human sees and interpret the information. Vision-based navigation technique uses a computer algorithm and data from optical sensors calculate the optimal path. The algorithm translates the visual information into concentration surroundings data so that the location of mobile robot can be identified & from there it chooses an optimal path to accomplish its goal. After that, the driving system of the mobile robot will be activated to reach its destination.

Why vision for navigation?

The conventional robot navigation systems, using traditional sensors like ultrasonic, IR, GPS, laser sensors or magnetic tape-based navigation etc, suffer several drawbacks related to either physical limitations of the sensors or being significantly expensive. Vision sensing has emerged as a popular alternative where cameras reduce the overall cost and are flexible.

Safety System

The impact of mobile robots within warehouses and factories is set to accelerate over the next five years. According to research and advisory firm LogisticsIQ, the warehouse automation market will be more than double from $13 billion in 2018 to $27 billion by 2025. With more robots expected in the workplace issues around safety and security will become more important for those working alongside them. According to Lewandowski, “Safety is fundamental”, so to take care of these safety concerns mobile robots are loaded with a 2-level sensory system, 3D cameras, and many other safety protocols. Let’s delve a bit deeper into each of them.

How safety sensors work?

Many of the mobile systems are based on the LIDAR (light datection and ranging) technology so, from a safety standpoint, the point of entry is to make sure you have what is recognized as a capable safety system to detect objects and people and to react appropriately. This also allows the robot to assess appropriate risk behaviour models, which is essential for managing safety in robot-human collaboration.

Mobile robots working outside can depend on geolocation capabilities, such as GPS alongside detecting technologies including LIDAR, to figure out where they are and where they are going to. That isn’t commonly conceivable inside. Mobile robots working inside utilize simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology that uses LIDAR’s information to build a map of the robot’s environment and find the robot inside that map.

mobile robot saftey    safety sensor_mobile robot

Mobile robots safer than conventional or manual vehicles, as they are equipped with components that help them to become more autonomous, find the correct path while in motion, make them more capable to detect and diagnose faults and understand the surrounding environment.

Let’s take a brief look at what these components are and how do they work:

  • 3D Depth Camera: One of the main safety components is the Camera to visualize every time a mobile robot passes through some object.
  • Ultrasonic Sensors & Mechanical bumpers: Apart from LIDAR and depth camera, other sensors like ultrasonic and mechanical bumper (physical contact sensor) have been used in mobile robots. To avoid Collison with unexpected obstacles, these sensors help for detecting and mapping.
  • Warning and Alarm Lights: Waring lights give audible warning signals to mobile robots, when the mobile robot is approaching a turn, the warning lights function as directional signals to alert personnel in the area of the mobile robot’s intention to branch right or left.
  • Audible Warning/Alarm Signals: If any distinct tones such as songs, the noise will occur during the operation of mobile robots – alarm warning tone will get activate.
  • Emergency Stop Buttons: When mobile robots enter an emergency stop state, emergency stop buttons automatically become active and stop the robot to move.

Equipped with the above mentioned critical components and systems, mobile robots are constantly evolving into human-friendly and making the machine-human interaction an everyday reality.

Types of Mobile Robots – What to use where?

Mobile robots are capable of locomotion, they move around their environment and are not fixed to one physical location. They can be classified in two different ways; by the environment wherein they work and by the device, they use to move.

Let’s discuss different examples of different environments wherein mobile robots can work:

  • Underwater robots or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) which can direct themselves and travel through water. AUVs are also called as Swimming Robots.
  • Aerial Robots are autonomous micro air vehicles, specializing in their guidance and control in the air.
  • Land-based robots categorized as wheeled robots, tracked robots, and legged robots. These are more complex types of robots and are autonomous humanoid as it requires many degrees of freedom and synchronization. Also known as unnamed vehicle group (UGVs), they navigate on inside the house or dry land.
  • Delivery & Transportation robots can move materials and supplies through work with the capability of moving around by navigating through an uncontrolled environment with or without the need for the physical or electro-mechanical guidance system.

Mobile robots can be autonomous or non-autonomous, in order to do the achieve motion, it relies either on guidance devices such as sensors or physical devices that allow them to travel a pre-defined navigation route in relatively controlled space.

Hence the two types of mobile robots are:

  1. Non- Autonomous guided mobile robots
  2. Autonomous mobile robots

Non – Autonomous Mobile Robots:  Guided mobile robots or non-autonomous mobile robots require some sort of guidance system or instruction to make a movement that allows them to travel pre-defined navigation maps in a controlled environment. The pre-defined navigation map such as magnetic tape, bar codes, wire or sensors installed on the environment’s floor that creating an inflexible environment.  These are the following types:

  1. Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV): This AGV requires the external guidance system in the form of magnetic strips to travel. These follow a rigid form of the preset route. Typical AGV applications incorporate transportation of raw materials, work-in-progress, and finished goods in support of manufacturing production lines, and storage/retrieval or other movements in support of picking in warehousing and distribution applications. AGVs provide automated material movement for a variety of industries including Automotive, Food & Beverage, Chemical, Hospitals, Manufacturing, Pharmaceutical, Paper.
  2. Rail Guided Vehicle/Cart (RGV/RGC): RGV/RGC is a fast, flexible and easily installed material transport system that travels at a predefined path guided by rails or tracks. RGC has separate input/output stations that allow it to perform multiple operations at once. These mobile robots are an efficient, cost-effective and fast option for complex sorting applications.
  3. Guided Fork-lifts: This specific AGV type is inspired by the conventional human manned forklifts. These forklifts are becoming increasingly complex and intelligent full of autonomy for some applications. These could manned/unmanned traveling with the help of external devices such as tablets, human, etc. The forklift AGV is designed to provide both horizontal and vertical movement of the load.

Autonomous Mobile Robots: Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) are just like humans; can make their own decisions and then perform tasks accordingly. Autonomous robots can perceive their environment and remember it. Based on this info they navigate in a controlled environment without any predefined path or electro-magnetic guidance map, that way they offer flexibility to a large extent. AMRs also optimize the travel distance by calculating the shortest path for every mission & drive efficiency in the warehouse.

Let’s look into a few of its applications:

  1. AMR for Good-to-picking: This includes robots bringing mobile shelf units filled with items to a workstation. In this case, pickers remain at their workstations while software-driven AMRs deliver shelves with different materials directly to the order pickers’ workstation.
  2. Picking Assist Autonomous Mobile Robots: In this case, the robots travel to pick locations, where operators deliver (“pick”) goods based on the robot’s needs. They are an AMR base with an operator interface that provides information about picking order. The robot tells the operator “I want this item and here is where you can find it”. The user interface is also interactive, being possible to provide further info about the product or receiving info from the operator such as “picking accomplished”.
  3. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): These are basically drones moving large products through the air in distribution centers with the help of RFID-scanning technology to offer real-time inventory visibility in the warehouse. Guided autonomously by remote control, UAVs can sense their environment and navigate on their own.
  4. Sorting Robots: These robots play an important role in high speed sorting esp in fulfilment centers. These robots work on a mezzanine with chutes/rabbit holes for location or order positions. Sortation is easily achieved by utilizing a fleet of sorting robots that sort the orders by dumping them through chutes/rabbit holes. The dropped orders or parcels are collected in sacks, gaylords or containers, which will be shipped directly to customers.

Now, along with commercial and industrial sectors, mobile robots are a common sight in public sectors such as hospitals and airports as well. With the evolution of advanced navigation systems & enhanced safety features they are only a step away to become human allies in our everyday activities.

Functional Challenges of Mobile Robots

Over the past few years, mobile robots have started emerging as one of the most important assets in industries for material handling and other intra-logistics operations. These robots have minimized the need for manual handling and an increased number of handling tasks. Little do people realize that even though these robots carry heavy loads but still face functional challenges that are not often noticed and have adverse effects on their maneuverability.

Challenges Synoptic

Mechanical Design Overview

The design of mobile robots capable of intelligent motion and action involves the integration of many different bodies of knowledge. The aim of this system is to idealize an existing autonomous mobile robot, on all levels. This includes the mechanics, kinematics, dynamics, perception, sensor fusion, localization, path planning, and navigation. All these aspects must be reviewed and modified to a modular system if necessary new modular modules must be designed and developed. This way a robust and modular autonomous mobile robot, capable of intelligent motion and performing different tasks will arise.

Mechnical Design Overview

The major challenges include mechanical structure, navigation, and human-centred intelligent control, of which navigation is the most challenging functionality required for such autonomous systems. The navigation comprises four dominant blocks of competencies: perception, localization, cognition and motion control.

  • Perception is the ability of a robot to interpret meaningful data from its sensor,
  • Localization defines how good a robot determines its position in the environment,
  • Likewise, Cognition and Motion control helps in extracting a way to achieve its goal and modulating the motor controller to reach the desired trajectory.

Of all the above four competencies in navigation, localization is considered the most challenging area which requires the greatest research attention.

localization-mobile robot

A Pitfall to Mobile Robots

Assuming one could just attach a GPS sensor to a mobile robot that could solve the localization problem informing the robot of its exact position in the environment. Unfortunately, the current GPS system is not practical with accuracy to say several meters which are almost unacceptable for localizing the mobile robot. Furthermore, the current advancements with positioning technologies are not proving any place in the market especially when it comes to indoors or in obstructed areas. Also, localization is not just limited to determining an absolute pose in space, rather a series of collaborative tasks like building a map, then identify the robot’s relative pose with respect to mapping. In other words, one can say that the robot’s sensors play a crucial role in the localization and the sensor’s inaccuracy and incompleteness contributes to major challenges in localization.

In perception, the major contributor lies with sensor noise and aliasing, further aggravating the problem of localization. On the other hand, using a noise-free sensor alone can’t solve these challenges of insufficient information to identify robot’s pose in the world, instead, it also requires robot programming to recover the robot’s position over time based on series of sensor readings.