Pre-requisites to be considered before carton shuttle’

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.



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.


What are vertical lift modules and how can they fit your warehouse?

Have you ever imagined your cupboard to be automatic? An automatic storage space where you just need to press a button and Voila! you have your required item served before you. But why do you need an automatic cupboard at the first place? May be not. But automation matters when there are a number of items to store and you need them in your hand really quick. A warehouse or a factory is a place where the above utopia will become a hysteria.  A vertical lift module is the technology that makes the above system possible. You must have seen elevators with doors that open on both the front and rear side. Similarly, 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.

Necessity and Invention, an old lore!

Manufacturers across the globe supply a wide range of products and hence manage the inventory of these wide range of product profiles. From slow movers to fast and from small items to large, material handling approaches vary if these manufacturers are to maintain efficiency. There are various technologies available for fast moving items but medium and slow movers also required a technology to sync with the level of operation.

Some of the leading manufacturing industries including automotive, metals and heavy machinery, semiconductors and electronics, and aviation started using VLMs for the storage and retrieval of components and raw materials which are either slow or medium movers. At present, almost 18% of the VLM is used by automotive end-user sector. Suppliers in this industry focus on managing large inventory effectively and also seek to reduce additional cost incurred due to damages in parts. They also intend to improve the storage capacity within the available floor space. These factors lead to the increase in adoption of VLMs in the automotive industry.

Is it your cup of tea?

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.

Those industries where the inventory mix changes very frequently, and the stored parts record highly variable sizes and weights.

VLMs are used most often for order picking, consolidation, kitting, parts handling, buffering, inventory storage, buffer storage, and numerous other similar operations.

How does it make an impact?

Over the next five years the Vertical Lift Module (VLM) market will register a 7.9% CAGR in terms of revenue. The global market size will reach US$ 474.1 million by 2024, from US$ 350.2 million in 2019. The usage of VLM is industry agnostic but at the same time process specific. It is basically developed to optimise the picking operations of a workspace. The innovative automated storage technologies and vertical module will save your team both time and resources in your picking operations. Below are some brownie points which can deliver the ergonomics to operations with a touch of a button on a control device:

  • Vertical space utilisation: In order to match storage requirement in a facility, these VLMs can be built as high as the available y-axis overhead space, which otherwise be wasted. It is ideal for reducing the floor space requirements for stored materials. This reduction of valuable square feet can be as much as 90% compared to the traditional shelving system.
  • Enhanced Productivity: VLM reduces the wait time after a pick. Once the picker completes one picking operation, the next closest required item gets delivered. This eliminates the requirement of memorising the location of an item by a picker and makes the operation many times faster and approximately 200-400% more productive.
  • Safety: It tremendously reduces operators’ risk as everything inside is automatic. The obstacle detecting sensor mechanism makes it a complete safe technology to be used for a picking and overall order fulfilment operation.
  • Seamless Integration: VLMs can be used stand-alone or with the existing Warehouse management system software to manage the space and utilization of units, which allows you to easily manage the automatic vertical warehouse and all the information systems in one simple, convenient location.
  • Minimise Damages: The system ensures almost zero damages, caused while handling the items in a picking process while maintaining a smooth traceability of each and every item inside the vertical storage system.

Considering the benefits mentioned above on a quite macroscopic level, VLM is the best technology or tool to meet each organization specific business and warehouse requirements. With its compact size, it is ideal for storing and picking items such as electronic components, pharmaceuticals, and tools. It is best applicable for slow to medium moving order fulfilment applications as part of a facility and organization which is emerging in its industry in terms of scale and trying to hit the “benchmark” level performances!

Role of WMS in boosting supply chain efficiency

The primary function of a warehouse management system (WMS) is to monitor the transfer and storage of goods within a warehouse and to process the associated transactions, including shipping, receiving, picking and put-away. WMS is a database-driven computer program that helps boost warehouse productivity by controlling cutaways and keeping inventory accuracy by documenting warehouse transactions. WMS also helps stock guide and optimize based on real-time details on bin utilization status.

How WMS can enhance supply chain management

A supply chain involves the flow of goods and services, right from the raw materials to production work-in-progress, and until the delivery to the customer. In this chain, warehouse is an integral part that ensures operations to happen effectively from suppliers to the immediate customers. A free-flowing logistics supply chain is nearly impossible without a powerful warehouse management system, as it removes all the irregularities, delayed sourcing, inventory management, and many other factors hindering the chain.

  1. Provide a Centralized platform

A WMS software offers a streamlined platform to track, monitor, and manage all the functions across the supply chain and logistics. Departments such as storage, shipping, and distribution are all connected under one software, thus helping overcome the information gap and friction among vendors. This guarantees a continuous flow of goods, helping the businesses to grow exponentially.

  1. Inbound & Outbound Process Optimization

A resourceful WMS is equipped with tools that can help plan and develop process automation, establish high-performance indicators, and align the ongoing processes to gather real-time information. WMS software can help determine the effective use of labour and space to minimize the wastage of resources in the supply chain. This software helps in location management by identifying the best location to keep certain goods or products in a warehouse, thus bringing optimal workflow in a warehouse.

  1. Cut-down expenses of operation

A well-designed WMS software allows suppliers to plan more frequent cycle counts (either of single or multiple goods), which gives them consistency in business and accelerate shipments in order to meet customer demands. WMS also helps the warehouse to run more smoothly with limited human monitoring and giving directions in the supply chain operations. Overall, this not only increases the volume of delivery but also reduces time and cost.

  1. Accurate Inventory visibility

In a warehouse, keeping track of the exact level of inventory is very crucial. WMS steps in to collect all the relevant data through serial number tagging, barcoding, and RFID tagging of the available stock. Once the data is collected, it is transmitted to the central database for further processing that happens in real-time. The database then helps provide useful reports as per the requirement about the status of goods in the warehouse. This increased identification of goods improves forecasting and smart analytics helps businesses to predict the customer demand for a product, especially during specific times of the year – such as holidays. This helps a warehouse to stock enough goods and ensure meeting customer satisfaction.

  1. Transparent Reporting Tool

One of the major benefits of WMS in supply chain and logistics is its ability to detect issues sooner and respond to them immediately. When one of the suppliers is unable to fulfil orders on time, WMS informs all the related users in the chain, immediately after the information gets updated in the system. This helps business receive enough time to find an alternate vendor, without affecting the customer experience.

Thus overall, a well-equipped warehouse management system has a very positive boost on the supply chain logistics of a business. It improves the consistency of product quality, increases customer satisfaction and leads to a brand name of trusted player in the market. However, a business must keep in mind that WMS is not a quick-fix solution, rather, a long-term tool that will help manage the warehouse inventory based on collected data. A business that is ready to invest in WMS must be certain of its streamlining goals and the upcoming business benefits. Such systems not only require capital investment, but also running costs, and equal enthusiasm and involvement from the warehouse team for its smooth operation.

Machine Learning inside the four walls of your warehouse

Machine Learning (ML) can be defined as the scientific study of algorithms that a computer uses to complete predefined tasks without human intervention. Machine Learning relies on patterns, movements, and inferences of the objects in its provided tasks. While we already see the use of machine learning in our day-to-day activities like face detection, speech recognition, trading algorithms, and online streaming recommendations, etc., this technology can be used in modern-day warehouses to elevate automation and increase productivity as well. Machine learning not only helps in improving the efficiency of a warehouse but also in organizing as bulk work gets diverted to artificial intelligence, warehouse staff can focus their energy on product quality and customer experience. Let’s take a look at how machine learning can revolutionize the modern-day warehouse experience.

Practical applications in the core areas

In warehouse management, machine learning can help alternate traditional planning and optimization tools which rely on certain process modelling or engineering. For instance, consider labour management systems that are based on engineered laboured standards. An Electronic Line Shafting (ELS) based system is explicitly programmed to calculate the expected work completion times for a given task using a pre-defined set of numbers and variables. ELS requires a huge upfront investment and measurements to come up with values used in the model. Machine learning, on the other hand, can help simplify this task by analysing streams of minute operational data, without the need for upfront engineering and numbers. The data can arrive through a number of sources such as mobile devices and automation systems, even WCS.

Receiving a new product in a warehouse can also be simplified with the help of machine learning. Machine learning can help analyse the current location of items in a warehouse, and when new shipments arrive, can match them to the correct location. This reduces the time consumption, reduces mistakes, and increase the efficiency of operations. ML can also help direct manual workers to the shortest route to reach a specific point in the warehouse, thereby saving time. Picking, another task is the highest visibility task in a warehouse, and machine learning can optimize it in a number of ways. As per a report by Adaptalift, order picking forms as much as 55% of operating costs within a warehouse, as compared to shipping and storage, and even has a direct impact on customer satisfaction levels. ML can help reduce the number of steps in the picking process, thus reducing the margin of error and damages. Whilst picking multiple orders, ML can help analyse the orders in the system and arrange the direct path, while simultaneously separating orders.

Inventory management is another aspect of the modern warehouse which needs a careful tendering to achieve efficiencies in supply chain. A lot of time and investment goes into improving the optimization techniques to make this process as smooth as possible. Machine learning can step in at this point and help improve inventory optimization, especially companies with multiple warehouses. ML can take into account multiple independent variables that could cause errors or delays in managing inventory, and provide appropriate suggestions and solutions to manage stock efficiently.

Another important factor that can contribute to making a warehouse more efficient is the use of the Internet of Things inside a warehouse. Implementation of sensors, RFID tags, device-to-device communication, and other forms of connectivity can help manage daily tasks easily. Machine learning can run the data collected by the IoT sensors and can help increase the life of machinery such as conveyor belts, shuttles, navigation-driven mobile robots, and even understand wear-and-tear by AGVs and other smaller delivery bots.

As a final word…

While in a current warehouse, we might see robots working alongside humans, machine learning can help propel the importance of the accuracy of robots and completely eliminate the need for human presence. A future warehouse, powered by machine learning, will be fully-automated, and an error-free space which will complete all its tasks and projects on-time with a one hundred percent accuracy.

Digital Twin in warehouses – advantages, applications & end user impact

The logistics industry has undergone continual advancements in the last decade and eventually created various opportunities for supply chain professionals. Technology opens up new possibilities and hence companies acing technology in the supply chain arena have found innovative ways to embark on a journey to unmatched efficiency and utmost customer satisfaction. But one of the most riveting technology in this space comes in the form of digital twin technology.

Digital Twin technology in the warehouse operates via feeding the data into aa virtual system. Combining this data with the Internet of things (IoT) bridges the physical warehouse with a unique virtual representation that monitors which exactly replicates the actual warehouse operations and further used to simulate the actual setup. It helps to make better decisions in real-time and facilitates clarity of communication among supervisors and managers due to information symmetry. It has resulted in the reduced go-to-market time by using virtual simulation of warehouse operations.

Unraveling the History

As a concept, digital twin became popular in 2002 but it was first used by NASA as a way to operate and repair their systems, located far away roaming in the galaxy. It proved out to be much productive in controlling and mirroring the systems after sending them out of earth’s biosphere. Now, armed with machine learning, artificial intelligence, and IoT data and devices, digital twins have evolved to an entirely new level of potential.

Application: Disrupting the status quo

Digital twins in the warehouse are creating an opportunity for companies to reimagine and re-examine their layouts and operations. When companies design the exact digital model of their physical layouts, it unlocks the way to experiment with multiple permutations & combinations and simulate to come up with different scenarios. It is operationally cost-effective as the results of the new design can be witnessed without risking the actual current operations. For example, Addverb uses this technology to simulate the warehouse layout designs via virtual 3D modeling, while proposing a solution to the customer and the results of the suggested design can be evidenced in the digital format. This allows the customer to do a cost-benefit analysis and throughput testing. This will help in keeping a track of the impact of the new solution on the current level of operation basis a data-driven decision. In the end, this will give companies the tools to create improved physical warehouse layouts while increasing the productivity of the workers. It helps the supervisors and managers to use real-time operational data to make informed decisions to reduce congestion, improve resource planning, and allocate workload.

What does the Industry say?

The project demonstrated so far based on digital twins helped in the development of risk-free approaches for testing in an agile way with a whole suite of technology to back them up. Industry researchers expect the market for the digital twins to grow 38% up to become US $26 billion by 2025.

Giants in the space of Industrial automation such as GE and Siemens are harnessing the possibilities of this technology for product development and management with new insights.

How does it matter?

The conventional modeling of machines and parts do not take into consideration the way in which parts wear out and replaced or how often the owners make modifications to them as per their requirement. With the advent of the digital twins, any changes made with the physical objects will also be reflected in the digital model of the object, changing the entire process drastically, something which was a mere imagination until now.

Instead of expensive and time-consuming experiments, the changes and new proposals can be incorporated in the virtual model and analysis can be done on the efficacy of the solution. Specifically to the warehouse, digital twin facilitates end-to-end traceability of assets, pallets, and packages to ensure operational efficiencies in logistical operations.

Digital twin technology has the potential to transform the logistics industry that can aid decision making while allowing a better perception of the future evolution of the operations. This technology will eventually lead to expedite the implementation of Industry 4.0 across the globe and this reign is in the hands of the logistic professionals to adopt the technology in their own operations.