Goods-to-Person Technologies Evolve and Expand
Just when warehousing and distribution operations were getting their arms around the concept of lean, the e-commerce wave swept many of those lean tenets aside. Companies now strive to add inventory and product lines, where personalization options, for example, can instantly turn one stock-keeping unit (SKU) into 10. The transition to each picking from primarily handling case and pallet volumes has further compounded the labor costs associated with pickers moving to fixed product locations. Goods-to-person (G2P) solutions, once ideal only for fairly specific applications, have evolved and expanded to offer a greater variety for those looking to boost service levels while reducing labor costs.
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As robot capabilities evolve, they are also migrating out of storage media and can be found roaming independently in conventional warehouses. John Hayes, vice president of sales and marketing for logistics for Vecna Robotics, says customers desire to one day rely heavily on G2P systems, but they want to go about it carefully.
“Jumping right into automation is a huge undertaking that involves shutting down and restarting with a whole new system,” Hayes says. “There is some reluctance, and I think a healthy fear of getting fully up to speed. They don’t think they can get there on day one, so they want a solution to bridge the gap.”
Hayes describes a system consisting of two specialized robots capable of working in standard shelving environments. The first robot retrieves totes or boxes from a range of shelf heights and can store, sequence or deliver several at a time. The second is a small single-tote robot that can supplement product movement and mobility.
“It’s a swarm type of system, with lots of smaller units working essentially independently based on instructions from the upper-level system,” Hayes says. “They offer a means to transport goods to the person in a more logical and efficient manner. What shows up to them is a bin from anywhere in a warehouse, delivered based on demand, not FIFO.”