May 2011 | Sponsored | Thought Leaders

Mobile Robots Expand Warehouse Automation Options

Tags: Materials Handling

Mick Mountz is CEO and Founder, Kiva Systems, 781-221-4640

Q: Warehouse managers are tasked with making investment decisions about systems that must scale for growth, often leading to unnecessary spending based on faulty five- and 10-year plans. Are there equipment options that can help mitigate this risk for warehouse management?

Mountz: Mobile-robotic solutions offer a whole new approach to warehouse automation. Using features such as robotic drive units, mobile shelves, workstations, and sophisticated control software to automate the pick, pack, and ship processes provides warehouse managers unmatched flexibility to implement the solution they need to handle their current volumes, then add additional capacity quickly and easily if they need it later.

Unlike conveyor, carousel, and traditional automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), this type of portable solution adapts to changes in product types and velocities, order prioritization, and other operational realities.

Q: In the e-commerce fulfillment center (FC), managers are pressured to keep costs down, offer same-day or overnight shipping options, and adapt quickly to changing product assortment. Order accuracy is paramount and any disruptions to the workflow are costly. How can an FC warehouse keep up with the complexities of demand without sacrificing speed, efficiency, and accuracy?

Mountz: Today’s savvy Internet retailer has abandoned the old practices that required operators to walk miles each day pushing carts to pick orders. Instead, they’re leaving the heavy lifting and travel to warehouse robots.

This form of picking is operator-friendly; empowers two to four times more productivity than other pick, pack, and ship automation approaches; and boasts a 99.99-percent order accuracy rate. And, because today’s trend could be tomorrow’s clearance item, when product accessibility needs change drastically overnight, mobile shelves ensure that items are always placed in the most efficient location.

Q: How can an investment in warehouse automation begin to reflect ROI even in the short term?

Mountz: Mobile-robotic systems are easy to design and install, with overall lower installation and operational costs than traditional warehouse automation systems. This flexibility drastically reduces the installation time for a new distribution center from months to weeks. Work injury reduction also yields cost savings. These solutions reduce worker fatigue and injury, because they limit walking through the warehouse, and bending and stretching at pick stations. Companies can also save on overhead costs by using zone heating and lighting in the limited areas where human stations are located.

Ultimately, a mobile-robotic warehouse is quick and low-cost to set up, inexpensive to operate, and easy to change.