Automated Lift Truck (ALT)
Lift trucks or forklifts are the critical part of the warehousing operations. With technology advancements and increase of automation within warehouse has led to ALT. They are guided through head cameras and traverse through preplanned routes. They are different from AGVs and are simple, less time taking and less costly to implement.
Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV)
AGVs are autonomous vehicles which use goods-to-person (GTP) concept for automated inventory storage and order picking in warehousing. They provide order accuracy & high throughput and are perfect fit for e-Commerce, 3rd Party logistics, healthcare and apparel type of warehouses. They work on magnetic tape and can run in lights-out facilities. It is very easy to scale up or down by adding or removing vehicle (s) from the grid. AGVs help in increasing the picking speed by 50% and reducing the inventory storage footprint up to 60%.
Currently AGVs have some limitations from the size of the mobile storage unit and payload it can carry. In future AGVs can be enhanced to carry payload of up to 3500 pounds and box of size 48X48 sq. inches.
Automated Storage & Retrieval System (ASRS)
ASRS also uses GTP concept and involves rail guided cranes that can travel along aisles for storage and retrieval of inventory. They are also equipped with lifts to move inventory to higher levels. For Garments on Hangers (GOH) there are garment handling conveyor used for storage and retrieval. Warehouses using ASRS, uses ~40-45% less space compare to traditional warehouses, to accommodate same number of items.
Order Fulfillment System
Order fulfillment system guides operators for discrete order picking, batch order picking or case picking. Order fulfillment system uses either fulfillment automation using AGV, ASRS and ALT systems (discussed above) or paperless picking technology like put/pick-to-light (PTL) or voice picking. PTL system uses light displays to direct user to inventory locations for put/pick. Each location also has display to show quantity to be put/picked to/from location along with acknowledgement button.PTL systems can be also used for zone picks. In a zone picking, users are assigned to an area and they will pick inventory as per displayed light and place it into the tote or box which is rolled out on conveyor. In PTL, GTP concept is confluence with visual displays identification of location, item and quantity for high picking speed & low error rates.
Conveyor systems are most economical and efficient way to move goods in a facility without the use of manual labor. Conveyors can be used for receiving, unloading, long distance movement, routing for packing and shipping etc. There are various types of conveyor systems like sortation (linear, cross belt, tilt tray etc.), pallet, transportation and accumulation conveyors.
Packaging automation includes cartonization, bagging, packing list insertion, print/apply label etc. This system ensures the right item gets to the right person in the right manner with consistency across each package.
With all the rapid changes and solutions in automation, it has become one of the most critical factor in warehousing to move ahead of competition. As we move ahead in the game of automation, it is important to build intelligent automation which is scalable& flexible. Use automation and robotics specialist’s experience and expertise to identify the area of automation and determine ROI. The automation specialist(s) should re-imagine and leverage cutting edge technologies to solve challenges by simplifying complexities in the warehouse. During identification and ROI determination some of the key factors need to be considered are handling of volume surge, increasing throughput, improving productivity, filling labor shortage gaps etc. The key here would be to scope the requirements, start small, enhance and improve from there.