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December 31, 2012

Distribution center robots

Everything Robotics covered the improvements in the speed of distribution centers through the use of robotics and the Kiva goods to man process.

Kiva Goods to man process achieves 600 units per hour versus 160 picks per hour for Man to Goods

Amazon has and continues to lead e-commerce-driven distribution with their pick-to-cart method (otherwise known as man-to-goods) and their promise of speedy economical delivery. Workers run around and fill carts and deliver them to conveyors where they are transported to packing stations where individual shipments are processed and staged for pickup by FedEx, UPS, etc.. The metrics for this are 160 picks per hour. The video below shows that process.



Kiva Systems disrupted those metrics and increased worker productivity by reversing the man-to-goods process. This method brings the goods to the packer (goods-to-man). As Kiva's success became proven in the field, Amazon acquired Kiva for $775 million and is beginning to install Kiva systems in their new warehouses. It is estimated that the new Kiva metric for Amazon consumer goods is 600 items per hour.





There are three vendors (Symbotic, Swisslog and Dematic) emphasize maximizing warehouse density which can be seen by level upon level (multiple vertical rows) of floor to ceiling racks.

Swisslog builds modularized conveyors, stacker cranes, row rovers (called carriers) and autonomous tugs as well as their new AutoStore robots. Swisslog can handle open-case light goods and pallet/case systems. Swisslog provides European style material handling often characterized by high capital and operating costs and lots of mechanical devices. They enjoy very high productivity and space utilization in return.

Swisslog claims that their methods maximizes both vertical and horizontal space enabling them to process up to 1,000 picks per hour.

Dematic provides conveyors, tugs, sorters, lifts and a variety of software for warehouse management, order fulfillment, RFID and SAP solutions and transport maximization. They use all of the different picking methods: pick by voice, pick by light, RF picking, etc.

Their most recent product addition is their row Multishuttle, a robotic rover that travels each row in each aisle in the warehouse picking orders and delivering them to a lift which sends them onward to a packing station.

Symbotic focuses on handling skids and cases rather than on open-box or individual items. In an automated case/pallet warehouse, utilizing available storage area, including height as efficiently as possible, is the goal. Symbotic attempts to maximize usable space by providing and/or integrating all of the shelving, conveyors, stackers, robotic systems, robotic rovers and software, often reaching 17 rows high with the number of aisles limited only by the square footage of the warehouse. It's like multi-level chess except on 17 levels.

More Background

Here is a link to a review of distribution center automation in the grocery industry over the last few decades

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