How (Decoupled) Robotic Solutions Free Up Warehouse Workers

How (Decoupled) Robotic Solutions Free Up Warehouse Workers

The fulfillment world is on the cusp of a new robotic revolution. Adding an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) fleet to your distribution center is one of the most powerful productivity steps you can take this year. Whether your goal is to cut fulfillment costs or increase fulfillment capacity, the key to maximum improvement lies in decoupled AMRs.

Decoupled AMRs are a technology and a methodology for fulfillment operations in which orders, human piece pickers, and autonomous transport robots are treated as entirely independent from each other. The robot vehicle isn’t paired to an order. The picker is not paired with (does not accompany) the robot. Instead, in decoupled fulfillment automation, fleet-controlled autonomous robots optimize materials handling by picking up order-totes, transporting them to the next picking location or to the shipping area, and setting them down at the destination without any oversight by workers. This means that the picker is not leading, following or waiting for the robot.

This robot-human collaboration transforms fulfillment operations because the robots are more than automated carts. In decoupled AMR, an order may be held in usually one tote, be piece-picked by several workers, and shuttled from one location to another by a series of robots assigned on an ad hoc basis by the software. Each AMR performs one leg of the order fulfillment transport path, which of course ultimately ends at the shipping area.

Takeaway: All autonomous mobile robotic systems are not created equal. Decoupling is the key.

Decoupling the robot from the worker allows each to go to locations independently when ready. This solves the old “traveling salesman” problem that has long constrained the picking process: while the picker and the robot have to go to the same shelf location they do not have to be there at the exact same time. Removing that constraint means neither robot nor human ever waits for the other. Workers can dedicate themselves to picking only, and remain within a comfortably defined product aisle zone. Robots, on the other hand, spend their time independently placing totes at the ready within picking aisles, receiving optimized “transporting assignments” from the software and moving totes without any human assistance.

This solves the overall picking efficiency problem at the highest level, guaranteeing maximum fulfillment throughput and minimum time-to-ship per order while optimizing labor costs by right-sizing the picking staff.

The result? You can handle your existing workload with fewer pickers in fewer hours. Your existing warehouse space can handle more orders, raising your capacity limit. Your customer service improves dramatically due to fewer picking errors and shorter order response times.

Takeaway: Right-sized staffing, higher capacity, faster time-to-ship, fewer bad picks, much happier customers.

You may be accustomed to seeing robotic solutions for warehouse operations that pair up workers with robotic carts, but that has changed. The latest decoupled AMR technology creates a simultaneous dual workflow using parallel teams of workers and robots. To review, neither worker nor robot is assigned to process an entire order exclusively. Pickers place items from the product shelves into pre-positioned totes, then confirm that the tote is ready to move on. Next, the software dispatches a robot along the optimal path to the shelf, where it grabs the tote and transports it either to the shipping area directly or to another location to receive more items in the order. Any robot can move any tote.

Separating piece picking into discrete actions that can be performed by multiple robots and pickers creates an efficient, fluid process. It vastly reduces worker stress by eliminating lifting and carrying totes through the warehouse aisles. Worker job satisfaction increases, which leads to higher retention rates. And making pickers more productive can combat the labor shortage challenges so chronic in many geographies.

Comparing the use of decoupled AMRs to a manual picking scenario have found a staff of workers can process the same number of order lines faster, with significantly lower physical stress. Now, that’s a revolution!

Why Use Autonomous Mobile Robots for Fulfillment? Here are 7 Great Reasons.

Why Use Autonomous Mobile Robots for Fulfillment? Here are 7 Great Reasons.

We are on the cusp of a new robotic revolution in fulfillment operations. Converging market forces and emerging technologies have triggered the next shift—an evolutionary step in which human-tended autonomous picking carts “yield the field” to game-changing autonomous mobile robots. Robot-human collaboration is experiencing an exciting breakthrough that will transform much of the material handling world.

Collaborative, bi-directional autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are now capable of independently picking up and delivering order-totes from one warehouse shelf to another, or to the shipping area, without any help from a human worker. Warehouse staff can focus on picking items into order totes, while all transportation across the distribution center floor is handled entirely by a team of robots working in parallel with people. We have essentially “crowdsourced” the transportation part of the process for maximum picking efficiency, as well as increasing existing warehouse capacity.

So here we have two teams—one human, one AI machine—working side-by-side to execute fulfillment faster while minimizing the stress—and tedium—experienced by workers.

Underpinning this great fulfillment concept is a more general material handling breakthrough that has many additional benefits, such as boosting output, reducing worker fatigue, and raising (human) job satisfaction. In this series of posts, we will take a look at seven reasons to embrace AMRs for material handling in the warehouse. Here is an overview:

Greatly enhances fulfillment throughput: An AMR fleet delivers significantly better throughput than manual picking and legacy pick & pack solutions. Robotic systems that optimize workers and robots independently where you don’t require pairing up robotic carts with human workers yield the maximum efficiency.

Little or no disruption to existing warehouse infrastructure: AMRs easily integrate into existing infrastructure requiring no expensive changes to racking and shelving. AMRs are built with safety and navigation tech to operate in the same space as human workers.

Increases staff productivity and job satisfaction: AMRs with the ability to lift and put down order-totes eliminate manual lifting and walking long distances, creating a healthier, easier work environment for personnel.

Reduces errors in real-time: A typical manual piece-picking operation may experience up to 35% incorrect picks, whereas using a system to validate item, location and order-tote practically eliminates pick errors.

Monitors and tracks key performance indicators: Performance monitoring for the entire human-robot workflow lets managers assess the overall fulfillment process and performance of the individual robots and pickers.

Evolves flexibly with business needs: An AMR solution can easily scale up or down to meet changing volume demands and adapt to new work flows.

Lowest Total Cost of Ownership: With AMRs, capital investment is low, implementation takes only a few weeks, and return on investment is achieved in twelve to eighteen months.

In our coming posts, we’ll expand on many of these benefit areas.

Visit NextShift Robotics in Atlanta at Booth #C2363 at MODEX

Visit NextShift Robotics in Atlanta at Booth #C2363 at MODEX

HALL C Booth #C2363
MODEX Floor Plan

The 2018 MODEX Supply Chain Conference takes place from April 9-12 and NextShift Robotics will be there. Over 800 companies and thousands of attendees will converge on the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia to see the latest innovations in warehouse technology, ecommerce, material handling systems and equipment, inventory management, and logistics. Keynote speakers from UPS, Deloitte Consulting, and the MIT Sloan School of Management will address topics like today’s supply chain challenge and the ways the digital revolution is driving productivity, and Dirty Jobs host and Founder of the mikeroweWORKS, Mike Rowe will talk about the value of skilled labor and the benefits of hard work.

The four-day conference features product demos, informational meetings, and networking sessions based on the topic, The Foolproof Way to Futureproof Your Business. The largest supply chain expo in North America, MODEX highlights the latest technology, equipment, and solutions that make businesses run smoothly, quickly, and efficiently.

NextShift Robotics will be at MODEX showcasing a collaborative mobile robotic solution that will take your fulfilment center productivity to the next level in less than 4-6 weeks and provide an ROI (return on investment) in just one year.

Visit the NextShift Robotics team at booth# C2363 to meet our robots, Roger and Golf, and learn how easy it is to integrate autonomous mobile robots into your warehouse without making expensive infrastructure changes. Our solution increases throughput, extends warehouse capacity, and frees workers to pick (not transport) products, increasing efficiency by 2-6 percent. You’ll be amazed at how our uniquely collaborative robots can create faster, more cost-effective fulfillment for your business.

To learn more, watch our video, introducing our patented workflow and highlighting how NextShift Robotics can create an efficient material handling solution for your business.