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Simple driverless transport for quick retail returns 

01 February 2019

An online retailer’s profitability will stand or fall on having time- and cost-effective returns management. Edward Hutchison, Managing Director of BITO Storage Systems, explains how driverless transport systems can fulfil this need in online retail intralogistics operations.

By reducing travel times driverless transport systems can save time and money – even with the multi-level picking processes used in e-commerce warehouses and when traversing multi-tier installations.

The driverless LEO Locative container transporter from BITO is said to make a smart addition to e-commerce warehouses.

The transporter links workstations and handles transport from the returns department or processing point to other stations for repairs, disposal, ironing, packing or returning the item to the warehouse. Each destination can be flexibly programmed in as needed and integrated into the transporter’s journey.

Multi-level picking is often a good choice for e-commerce businesses. Compared to single-level or single-item picking, multi-level picking combines multiple orders into a single ‘pick’, with items only later being packed as individual orders. Items are picked off the shelf individually. The use of a downstream sorting process or consolidation station enables picking to be freed to a very large extent from order-specific constraints. Multi-level picking is therefore seeing increasing use in the e-commerce sector, where a wide range of products are often sold.

LEO Locative can assist here. The container transporter can drive to each picking station where it is loaded up by the picker, and then it carries the containers of orders to collection or packing stations before transferring them to the shipping department.

E-commerce businesses often use multi-tier installations for storage and picking. A good solution in such cases is having a LEO on each floor of the installation. 

Easy set-up

With no Wi-Fi or IT required LEO Locative is said to be easy to set up and run. The user is in charge of specifying routes and stopping points.

They can simply lay down an adhesive coloured line on the facility floor to mark the route for LEO to follow. Stations where the transporter needs to stop and any tasks this driverless system needs to perform at each location, are also specified using markers applied directly to the floor. These markers function as LEO’s ‘brain’ and contain the information the system needs to perform each task (such as stopping, handing over containers, receiving containers or proceeding onwards).

Decentralised routing

BITO presented a new innovation at LogiMAT 2018: a prototype for LEO Locative featuring decentralised routing.

Dennis Ramers, BITO product manager for LEO Locative, says: “Decentralised routing expands and complements our existing LEO Locative system. Until now, LEO has been able to follow fixed routes in a fixed order. This has made it the simplest ‘point-to-point transport system’ on the market – and it will continue to hold this title. But now, decentralised routing lets the user send the transport vehicle to different destinations using a simple interface on a tablet. This will open up many new applications for LEO Locative while preserving its key properties: simplicity, no need for Wi-Fi, centralised control and – as a result – low investment costs which pay off very quickly.”

Decentralised routing offers significant benefits for returns processing in eCommerce. Returns are conventionally sorted into different categories at sorting stations, for example ‘Store’, ‘Iron’, ‘Wash’, and so on. LEO can now bring sorted items from sorting stations to the relevant departments. When returning items to the warehouse, the driverless container transporter can drive right up to the end of each aisle. Employees can then simply return goods to the rack ‘in passing’.

Decentralised routing systems can be retrofitted on previously delivered LEO Locatives if desired.

Visit our BITO YouTube channel for exciting videos and explanatory animations