NextShift Robotics Receives Patent for Vertical Lift Capability as Part of Robotic Picking Process

NextShift Robotics Receives Patent for Vertical Lift Capability as Part of Robotic Picking Process

Second Patent for Next-Gen Autonomous Mobile Robotics Innovator Meets Needs of
Wide Range of Warehouse and Manufacturing Configurations

LOWELL, MA — March 21, 2019 — NextShift Robotics, a provider of autonomous mobile robot solutions for automated order fulfillment and warehouse materials management, today announced it has been granted a second patent, US10214354B2, “Method and System for Automated Transport of Items” as of February 26, 2019. The patent pertains to operating a robotic picking system in which the containers to be picked are positioned on the shelves and within picking stations. The patent covers the ability of the robot to raise itself vertically to access shelving of different heights in order to pick the appropriate container from a range of shelf heights and storage system configurations. The robot then autonomously transports the container throughout the facility and delivers it to a human or robotic pick/pack station. Thus, this patent covers an eventual unattended worker-free picking and packing operations.

Both patents were filed in 2014.

This is NextShift’s second patent, following their original patent US9694977B2, “Storage Material Handling System” that covers an advanced materials handling workflow in which autonomous mobile robots collaborate with warehouse workers but perform independently—i.e. without direct worker interaction—in order to enable a more efficient picking process involving fixed storage locations distributed in a storage space. After items have been placed into collection totes within the pick zones the mobile robots autonomously load, transport, and unload the totes at destinations around the facility.

The new patent covers a key requirement for companies that need to retrieve containers from varying height locations in the warehouse and deliver them to pick/pack stations without assistance from human workers.

“We are pleased to add to our portfolio of important intellectual property in the mobile robotic material handling space,” said Mary Ellen Sparrow, CEO and Founder of NextShift. “The patented ability to place and retrieve containers from variable shelf heights is very important in a Lean Manufacturing environment where standardized containers are delivered to point of use in work cells.  This ability also supports automated replenishment of containers to any point in the process, eliminating much of the worker intervention.”

Both of NextShift’s patents are of primary importance in increasing fulfillment flexibility and throughput at lower cost, a challenge facing many retail, 3PL, and manufacturing companies, but especially emerging eCommerce businesses.

NextShift’s fundamentally different, robot-based supply chain workflow dramatically increases order handling velocity, efficiency and quality using a right-sized fleet of agile, intelligent robots to take over transporting inventory items from storage to the pick face and from picking zones to fulfillment stations. The uniquely collaborative approach frees workers from time-consuming trips back and forth through the warehouse and allows them to focus on higher-value job activities.

About NextShift Robotics

NextShift Robotics designs and manufactures collaborative, autonomous, mobile robotic systems that increase productivity in manufacturing and distribution centers. The company was founded to revolutionize material handling for e-retailers, 3PLs, OEMs, manufacturers, and brick and mortar businesses. Our uniquely dynamic robotic technology dramatically speeds up execution and increases existing warehouse capacity. Most importantly, by transforming the nature of work, NextShift raises employee productivity, job satisfaction and safety to new levels. Visit www.nextshiftrobotics.com.

 Press Contact
Chris Russell
NextShift Robotics, Inc.

781-825-3876
Crussell@NextShiftRobotics.com

6 Ways Lean Manufacturing is Enabled by Collaborative Robots

6 Ways Lean Manufacturing is Enabled by Collaborative Robots

The emerging technologies in flexible, collaborative robotics are a synergistic fit for lean manufacturing.

Traditionally, lean manufacturing environments have eschewed technology in favor of simple visual systems and flexible processes.  A new generation of smarter, faster and lower cost robots is changing that.

The emerging robotic systems are collaborative – they work with the associates on the floor.  This means that instead of requiring 100% process automation in the application, these new robots can be used to automate the appropriate part of the process.  That makes them more flexible and a better fit for the lean world.

The question then becomes what are the use cases where we can apply these new robots and how do they align with lean manufacturing protocols?

Process overview:

In a Lean Manufacturing environment demand pulls production.  Safety stock and batching is eliminated to drive the most efficient production process.  Kanban quantities are pulled in standard containers to the point of use, typically a flexible cell, only when needed.

In this scenario the pull signal generates a pick and transport from the stock area of an exact order kit to the point of use, typically a designated Kanban location, and the empty container is retrieved.  This may require an associate to physically pick, retrieve and transport the container from the interim supplier stocking point to the point of use.

Let’s look at the opportunity for collaborative robots to add value in this process.

1.      Lean Manufacturing is demand driven.

Demand driven strives to match production exactly to the customer specific order configuration.  The end goal is to have production in lock-step with demand to deliver exactly to demand without variance or waste.

Robotic automation has always been good for high-volume, repetitive tasks.  Maturing robot technology can now be applied to lower-volume tasks that up to this point have required human intervention.  This includes better navigation technology that allows the robots to be truly autonomous and smarter algorithms that enable more complex collaborative tasks.

Robots can now support picking and delivering unique component kits for unique customer configured orders.  The collaborative robots are smart enough now to pick and deliver order-specific configurations and this takes the next step towards enabling true demand driven response.

2.      Utilizes flexible manufacturing methods to match supply to demand. (cells)

Flexible manufacturing enables the work cells to flex to both the volumes and configurations of orders.  In best practice these lean repetitive manufacturing flows minimize change-overs. Through cross training associates the cells have the capabilities to flex to the demand-driven customer orders all the way down to a ‘lot of one’.

In this environment the new generation of smarter, collaborative robots have the ability to match the flow and flex to low volume, order specific picks.  These robots can easily be ‘software configured’ to map to changing demand configurations in support of flex and flow of the cells.

3.      Eliminate waste (travel time and touches)

Using robots to pick and transport standardized kits to point of use maps directly to waste elimination (Kaizen).  Traditionally this type of automation was too rigid (conveyors, ASRS) and ran counter the flexibility required by a lean process.  The new flexible robots can automate the process and be quickly reconfigured for a new use without the traditional cost and capital requirements.

Not only can the robots increase the efficiency of the operations in terms of throughput they also eliminate different types of waste in the process.

  • Transportation waste
  • Queue and wait time waste (robots are instantly available)
  • Pick waste
  • Reduction of the number of human touches in the process

In additional the robots are ‘lights out’.  They are not constrained by shifts or skill-set availability.

4.      Utilizes deliver to point of use with standardized containers with small lots to visible Kanban.

Robots will deliver the standardized container replenishment or the order-specific kit directly to the point of use exactly when it is needed.  Traditional automation systems couldn’t manage simple visual signals to drive replenishment (empty bin, square on floor).  Collaborative robots will flex to volume (up and down) without having to add humans.  They will wait patiently for the pull signal and execute with no waste to deliver to the point of use.

5.      Utilize central supermarkets for common components that are pulled to the floor as needed by Kanban.

Robots can also be used the same way to replenish consumables to the cells from a supermarket.  In a supermarket use case the robots will receive the pull signal from the Kanban locations in the cells and automatically deliver a fresh bin replenishment to the point of use and remove the empty bin.  No human interaction or interruption of flow.

6.      A focus on six-sigma quality.

Removing human touches from the pick and transport process removes potential qualify problems.  For example, in an electric static sensitive environment the robot can be configured to always respect the electro-grounding requirements.  A variety of real-time environmental sensors can be built into the robot picking and transport application to monitor the quality being delivered.  The robot becomes a TQC platform.

Robots are perfect for six-sigma and TQC efforts because they don’t make mistakes and they don’t create potentially damaging touches in the pull and deliver process.

Summary:

A new generation of robots has matured to the point that they will enable many Lean Manufacturing use cases.  A perfect starting point is the pick, transport and delivery of components and kits to the point of use in production.  In the continued push to eliminate waste, drive perfect quality and deliver to direct demand a new cadre of robots is ready to lend a shoulder to the wheel.

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.