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Highly dynamic automation in the warehouse of tomorrow

27 July 2020

The warehouse of tomorrow will be highly automated, says Joel Garbutt, Head of Sales Northern Europe, TGW.

It is the only way for retailers to respond to the challenges they are facing today: the unpredictability of demand, the demand for an increased service level and the scarcity of labour. Optimised processes and digitalisation create efficiency and transparency and ensure that the requirements for quick delivery can be fulfilled.

Goods-to-man-solutions and highly dynamic shuttle systems are increasingly the beating heart of the modern warehouse. The growing success of e-commerce has prompted many retailers to switch to an omnichannel approach. As a result, the warehouse has become the core centre for the supply chain, and no longer the physical shop. E-commerce has also created more transparency.

Picking errors or longer lead times can no longer be covered up by the physical shop but are immediately shared on social media. Empowered and demanding customers are constantly imposing new demands on logistics and distribution.

To respond to this trend, retailers have focused on streamlining their productivity. At the same time, there has also been an increase in the number of SKUs: consumers demand more and more product variations and retailers use of different packaging units. In this new context, advanced goods-to-man-systems play an important role. Highly dynamic shuttle systems are the heart of this solution.

They guarantee a constant supply of totes to the workstations. Order pickers receive the items in the correct order, which enables a fast processing of the order. Because the stock is safely stored on a limited floor space, the risk of product damage is almost zero. The function of ‘walking distance’ can also be eliminated from the overall order picking time. It is therefore possible to collect orders from various channels and with a constant lead-time. A strongly controlled supply process also contributes to a high inventory reliability.

In addition, shuttle systems are also suitable for goods with widely varying rotations, which is the case in omnichannel environments. In more and more warehouses, the scalability of the systems is also a key aspect. TGW therefore developed FlashPick, providing answers to general questions regarding efficiency and cost reduction in a warehouse. It is based on a shuttle system for automated storage and retrieval (AS/RS) of totes, combined with a high-performance one-to-one picking workstation.

The process is very easy for the picker: The system presents one SKU container to pick from and another one order container to pick into. After the picking process, the SKU containers return to the system while the order ones can be routed towards the shipping area. To respond to the scarcity of labour, FlashPick also supports fully automated order picking. In this case, FlashPick is combined with a Robotic workstation. This solution combines a fast gantry robot, several cameras and innovative software.

This allows for a wide range of articles – in terms of shape, size, colour and material – to be picked in a fully automated way. With the help of deep learning, the gripping location can be calculated very quickly, making extremely reliable automatic order picking possible.  The question is no longer whether automation is necessary, but what level and type of automation is the right one for my warehouse.
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