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

Here’s Why Robots Dominated MODEX in 2018

Here’s Why Robots Dominated MODEX in 2018

Robots were all the rage at MODEX this year. Even before you walked through the doors of the World Congress Center in Atlanta you could tell robotics would be a major theme—the show guide alone had 47 mentions of it.

What’s going on in robotics right now that warrants such an outpouring of interest from the material handling industries? What forces are converging to unlock the potential value of robots? Let’s take a look.

A Shift in Market Forces: Amazon, Assortment, and Speed

The first major influencing force is loosely referred to as the “the Amazon effect.” Business practices are shifting in response to changes in how end customers buy, with the continuing trend toward “ecommerce expectations” forcing even traditional companies to change their ways in the face of market pressure.

The shift to ecommerce is compounded by emerging customer sentiment for assortment and speed, spurring a proliferation of low-volume items that still have a high service level expectation. This is the classic ‘long tail’ defined by Chris Anderson in 2006. Supply chains must now develop capabilities that fly in the face of their traditional high-volume, low variability distribution processes.

The new market forces extend beyond ecommerce. One well-known clothing manufacturer at MODEX traditionally shipped cases and packs of underwear to stores at high volume. Now it does individual piece picking to consumers. The staff has created an entirely new workflow for outbound distribution to pick and ship individual pairs of underwear. They are not alone; to meet the demand of ecommerce consumers, many companies are developing processes to pick and ship pieces or eaches. It’s very hard to automate sufficiently to handle this high-mix, high-variability flow. Lacking a suitable option, companies have been forced to throw people at these processes.

Happily, a new generation of robots—autonomous, flexible and collaborative robots—can handle a high mix flow. Robots work with people to drive efficiencies in processes that have traditionally been immune to automation. At MODEX we saw a new generation of robots diving into this void to meet the challenge.

Robot Maturity Creates Interesting Math

Enabling technologies are maturing, trying to keep up with the accelerating shift in market expectations. The building blocks of robotic hardware are continuing to get better, faster and cheaper. Emerging software disciplines around machine learning are making the hardware smarter.

For example, high-resolution cameras and LIDAR have become commercially practical for robot self-guidance. Today’s onboard computing power can process tens of thousands of sensor points, allowing robots to shake off physical tethers and move about on their own. This is a major leap forward in deploying robots in warehouse and distribution applications. No longer tied to wires or waypoints, and fully aware of their environment, self-guided robots can now work alongside humans in existing spaces, opening up the opportunity for true collaboration.

Today the choice is not humans or robots, it’s humans and robots. We’ve arrived at a point where 1 + 1 = 3.

Maturing technology means it is no longer cost-prohibitive to apply robots to lower volume work streams. The machine learning ‘smarts’ of the new generation of robots can handle more variability in tasks. The ability to collaborate with humans coupled with significant intelligence creates a low-cost, highly flexible automated solution that meets the needs of the long tail items in the supply chain.

The Future Belongs to the Efficient

Since before the introduction of the production line—in other words, forever —the supply chain has been under pressure to reduce the cost of material handling. We are talking about labor. Workers are hard to find, expensive to train, and difficult to keep. Every year, seasonal surges in volume drive the scarcity of trained workers over the top.

At the same time, private equity ownership is changing businesses. Because equity ownership drives efficiencies and is not constrained by “the way it’s always been done” there’s a growing appetite to explore innovation. And that is driving new forms of automation.

When robots are deployed collaboratively with humans, efficiency increases by 2 to 6 times. Instead of “throwing people” at seasonal shifts in volume, robots can be dropped into existing distribution environments alongside the people with no need to extensively re-engineer existing processes. Robots can do the work humans don’t want to do or aren’t suited to faster, cheaper and with higher quality. Companies see robots as a key enabler.

Our MODEX Takeaway

It looks like we are on the verge of a robotic revolution in the supply chain. Converging market forces, emerging technologies, and increasing business pressure to automate are creating fertile ground for adoption. Many of the robotic applications on display at MODEX automate existing applications (autonomous floor cleaners, autonomous picking carts, etc.), which are incremental improvements, not game changers. There were also pieces of solutions on display (robotic hands, vehicles). There’s no question that some of the capabilities being developed are solutions in search of the right problem.

The next shift—the big shift—will happen when technology automates use cases that break new ground in autonomy, changing the way humans work in ways formerly dreamed of only in science fiction.

Robots appear to be on the cusp of an exciting breakout. Effective use cases are being put into place, and when the material handling world realizes what is possible, the adoption of robotic systems within supply chain automation is set to explode.

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.