Last year, ARC Advisory Group published its first formalized research study on the global warehouse automation & control market. The publication was well-received by market participants. Due to the high level of demand, ARC has decided to update the study this year. I came into the office on January 4th with this market study update in mind, thinking to myself “what will I find to be the areas of greatest change over the last year?”
E-Commerce Isn’t Slowing Down
The ongoing, rapid growth of e-commerce continues to place exceptional burdens on existing fulfillment networks. Not surprisingly, warehouse technologies that support high volumes of small, multi-line orders are receiving the greatest interest from practitioners as they realign their capabilities with the changing demand profile. In the warehouse automation market, this can be seen in the growing adoption of goods-to-person automation, namely in the form of shuttle systems that offer high levels of performance and flexibility. In addition, demand for even greater flexibility, and the exit of Kiva Systems from the market, is stimulating some exciting product development and early adoption of autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) for the warehouse. These emerging robotics systems are being developed by a number of start-up firms and established warehouse automation providers. Although robotics have physical characteristics, the embedded intelligence and application software are the key differentiating characteristics of these systems. Here is brief overview of the landscape for AMR in the warehouse, as I currently see it (in no particular order)
AMR – Coming soon to a Warehouse near You
Knapp Open Shuttle
The Open Shuttle is an AMR marketed along with Knapp’s existing line of carton and tote handling shuttles that includes the YLOG-shuttle and the OSR Shuttle. The Open shuttles utilize trackless navigation but also directly integrates with complementary systems such as the OSR shuttle. Open shuttles are generally available and in use at client sites, as evidenced by a new release stating Grene in Denmark obtained the Knapp Open shuttle in 2012 and uses it in conjunction with the OSR Shuttle.
Locus Robotics System
Locus Robotics, a Massachusetts based start-up, developed and deployed a new multi-robot fulfillment system at the facility of its development partner, Quiet Logistics. The robots and warehouse associates work together in a manner designed to reduce travel time and increase productivity by utilizing a novel work process. Associates scan items and place into totes transported by the robots. The robots autonomously navigate through the warehouse infrastructure along with others in the fleet, guided by the Locus server.
Swisslog CarryPick AGVs retrieve mobile racks and deliver to manned workstations. A fleet of CarryPick AGVs execute tasks simultaneously and are controlled by Swisslog’s warehouse management system. The system uses QR codes placed on the floor to provide the he AGVs with the required orientation capabilities. Although Swisslog refers to the vehicles as AGVs, they do appear to function autonomously with trackless navigation. CarryPick AGVs are generally available and DB Schenker in Sweden is referenced customer currently using the system.
GreyOrange, a fast growing start-up based in India, has developed an automated goods-to-person system featuring its Butler robots. The Butlers navigate the warehouse floor, retrieving mobile racks and delivering the racks to pick stations for efficient manual picking of orders from the shelves. The system also conducts ABC analysis to rearrange mobile racks with fast moving goods to the most convenient locations. The robots utilize trackless navigation guided by QR codes placed on the floor. The Butler system is generally available and currently in use at a couple client sites.
Fetch Robotics Freight (and Fetch)
Fetch Robotics, a Silicon Valley start-up, has developed a robot “team” consisting of a mobile base called Freight and a mobile picking arm called Fetch. Freight can be used with Fetch or in support of a warehouse associate. In the latter application, the Freight robot can follow associates to order picking locations and once order items are picked and placed in tote on Freight, the Freight robot can be dispatched to shipping while another autonomous Freight robot then arrives to support the warehouse associate to support the next order pick. Last I heard, Fetch Robotics has moved beyond the academic phase and was in the process of testing in a commercial setting.
The Scallog System is a goods-to-man automated solution that leverages an autonomous robotics fleet that transports mobile shelving to picking stations. I only recently became aware of this French company, and therefore have limited knowledge of its currently operating status. However, a press release on the company’s website states that the IDEA Logistics Group is testing the Scallog System.
Finally, Hitachi has developed an automous mobile warehouse robotics system branded Racrew. Information in English is currently limited, but a video presentation is available for viewing on the internet.