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

Cutting through the Robotic Clutter at ProMat2019

Cutting through the Robotic Clutter at ProMat2019

Cutting through the Robotic Clutter at ProMat2019

A Guide to Separating the Signal from the Noise in Material Handling Automation.

The eCommerce revolution is forcing its way into everyone’s distribution and fulfillment business. As a result:

Labor is becoming harder to find, more expensive and difficult to retain.

If this situation has you looking for piece picking automation solutions during your trip to ProMat this year, don’t be overwhelmed by all the shiny robotic objects on display at the McCormick Center.

We have categorized picking automation offerings into six “evaluation buckets” that make it easier to focus your energy.

Each bucket has unique attributes and automated workflows, but the newest category in the list, Independent AMR, is a next-generation technology that provides the best standard of comparison with regard to:

  • Labor cost efficiency
  • Cost of deployment and infrastructure
  • Throughput improvement and ROI
  • Flexibility and scalability, both up and down
  • Worker productivity and optimal working conditions

Here is a roundup of all six categories of automated piece picking solutions:

Manual Piece Picking

The what: The simplest automation alternative is no automation!  Simply having workers travel the warehouse and pick the product is a valid solution.

The good: There is no technology investment cost.

The bad: By definition this category is a labor-intensive way to address the use case.

Pro guidance: This is not a viable, long term strategy if your goal is to have greater labor efficiency over time and/or address the current labor pressures. Next.

Augmented Pick technology

The what: Simple technologies like put-walls, voice pick, RF pick and other add-ons can supplement the manual picking process that give some increased efficiency but don’t fundamentally change the pick process.

The good: These methods augment and automate parts of it for added efficiency at low to medium cost.

The bad: They provide only a medium bump in throughput.

Pro guidance: It’s not enough, folks.

Fixed Automation

The what: Automation that is physically built into the facility, like conveyors, shuttle systems and ASRS.

The good: A good fit for stable, high-volume use cases with little variability.

The bad: High initial cost and effort of deployment. Invasive installation into the physical environment. With that upfront cost there is also an ongoing maintenance cost and the requirement to hold extra inventory.  Most problematic for dynamic businesses will be a lack of flexibility.  Businesses with seasonal volume or mix changes and dynamic business conditions will require more flexible solutions.

Pro guidance: For appropriate use cases fixed automation achieves very high throughput and increases labor efficiency significantly, but is only appropriate for high-volume, stable, long-term investments.

Mobile Goods to Picker
The what: Warehouse shelves or goods are retrieved by the automation and presented to workers at a pick station, “Amazon-Robotics-style.”

The good: Achieves high throughput and high labor efficiency for big businesses that can afford a hefty investment in both funds and time.

The bad: Requires a build out with changes to the physical infrastructure and a potentially long and large deployment investment to get up and running.  With these solutions there is also a requirement to hold more inventory to support the workflow.  These are non-collaborative, meaning workers and automation cannot co-work in the same space.

Pro guidance: Must be designed to handle peak fulfillment but can be flexed by adding robots, stations and personnel. Again, these systems are only a good fit for high-volume, very stable fulfillment requirements where very little flexibility is ever anticipated.

Follow-me, Lead-me, and Wait-for-me pick assist AMRs
The what: Collaborative autonomous mobile robots or mobile carts.

The good: Newer robotic solutions are typically lower cost and do not require a physical build out. They assist the pickers and are highly flexible to business cycles and volume changes.  Workers and robots coexist in the same physical space and pickers can operate ‘hands free’.

The bad: The follow-me, lead-me, wait-wait-for-me dependence create a ceiling for the throughput and efficiency attainable and limits workflow flexibility – the workflow is constrained by the speed of the workers.

Pro guidance: These solutions are a good first step in robotic automation but have a built-in ceiling on the labor efficiencies they can achieve because they are constrained by the speed of the worker.

Independent AMRs
The what: Next generation technology. Robots work collaboratively but independently from workers in the warehouse.

The good: Robots run collaboratively in the same space as the workers—but workers are not forced to interact with the robots at all.  Removing this constraint enables a much higher throughput.

The bad: A picking application is required and the workers are not entirely hands free.

The better: Independent AMRs tick every box in the robotics advantages checklist. Inexpensive. Extremely flexible and scalable. Worker friendly. Optimal throughput.

Pro guidance: Years of materials handling automation has been building to this approach, where workers and robots each operate at their maximum efficiency, with zero interference.

In conclusion…

We hope this guide helps you to narrow your search so you can focus in on the best technology solution for your fulfillment operations—and your business bottom line.

NextShift Robotics Signs Reseller Agreement with Hy-Tek Material Handling, Inc.

NextShift Robotics Signs Reseller Agreement with Hy-Tek Material Handling, Inc.

LOWELL, MA — December 19, 2018 — NextShift Robotics, a provider of autonomous mobile robot solutions for automated order fulfillment and warehouse materials management, today announced a reseller agreement with Hy-Tek Material Handling, Inc. of Columbus, Ohio.

Today’s ecommerce fulfillment operations are challenged by labor scarcity along with the need for quicker response time and dramatically higher throughput. To keep pace with relentlessly rising customer expectations, autonomous mobile robots have emerged as a compelling answer to combat this difficult order fulfillment scalability need. As a leader in the design and implementation of customized integrated systems, Hy-Tek Material Handling, Inc. has entered into an agreement to incorporate, when applicable, NextShift Robotics.

Tom Mann, President of Hy-Tek’s Integrated Systems Division, said, “Hy-Tek prides itself on bringing the most advanced and innovative solutions to create productivity and efficiency for its customers. We looked at all the best robotic fulfillment offerings and found that NextShift’s unique design advantage is its ability to pick up and put down a tote. That key capability creates a truly independent robotic workflow that can deliver greater throughput than any other solution of its kind. That is why we have partnered with NextShift.”

“Hy-Tek’s deep understanding of the material handling business and the trusted collaboration they enjoy with clients complement our technology perfectly,” said Mary Ellen Sparrow, NextShift Co-Founder and CEO. “This synergistic partnership will drive adoption of a practical and innovative robotic approach that produces amazing value for customers.”

About NextShift Robotics

NextShift Robotics designs and manufactures collaborative, autonomous, mobile robotic systems that increase productivity in manufacturing and distribution centers. Founded to revolutionize material handling for e-retailers, 3PLs, OEMs, manufacturers, and brick and mortar businesses, NextShift autonomous robots work with, but independently from, warehouse staff to optimize the fulfillment process by increasing labor efficiency, order velocity, and warehouse capacity utilization. Visit www.nextshiftrobotics.com.

About Hy-Tek Material Handling

Hy-Tek Material Handling, Inc. is the premier single-source provider of material handling solutions for a wide range of industries. Since 1963, Hy-Tek and its best-in-class industry partners have been providing customers large and small with turnkey solutions. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Hy-Tek serves customers in the United States, Canada, and Mexico from offices in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Visit www.hy-tek.com.

Press Contact:
Chris Russell, Sales and Marketing, NextShift Robotics, Inc. 781-825-3876 or Crussell@NextShiftRobotics.com

NextShift Robotics Displays Ramp Climbing Ability

NextShift Robotics Displays Ramp Climbing Ability

Lowell Massachusetts, 12-10-2018, NextShift Robotics, a provider of fundamentally different robotic workflows for material handling in distribution and manufacturing recently demonstrated the ability of its robots to climb 8+ degree ramps.

See a video of the ramp demonstration here -> https://youtu.be/kjw0R68du4c

“It sounds simple”, says Mary Ellen Sparrow, CEO of NextShift, “but the ability to climb steep ramps and handle rough surfaces is a powerful differentiator for us.”

“Most robots,” she continued, “are designed to only operate on clean and level floor surfaces.  In a real distribution or manufacturing environment this is seldom the case.”

A real-world robustness has been designed into NextShift robots with the understanding that the surfaces aren’t always flat and pristine.  This is an invaluable differentiator when dealing with the realities of logistics.

Why is that important?  Because in many cases material handling workflows must move between buildings or onto mezzanines with open grating.  Unless you have a robot that is designed to handle these surfaces and inclines you won’t be able to support your workflow.

Often people don’t discover this limitation in their robots until they run into it in their facility.  Robots without this ability will simply stop, essentially getting stuck in the facility until someone comes to rescue them.  Having to rescue stuck robots runs counter to the value proposition of ‘robotic automation’.

Next Shift robots don’t get stuck.  NextShift robots are built for the real world of logistics and manufacturing.

Whitepaper: Execs Reveal What Moves Them from Interest to Action on AMRs for Fulfillment

Whitepaper: Execs Reveal What Moves Them from Interest to Action on AMRs for Fulfillment

5 New Reasons why AMRs are ready for Prime Time

We asked a cross-section of industry influencers, practitioners and executives the question: “What are the barriers to adopting Autonomous Robotic workflows in fulfillment?” and got some fascinating answers. That input helped us create a white paper titled The Amazon Effect & Robotics Adoption in Fulfillment that reveals five perceived barriers that may be keeping you from revolutionizing your fulfillment operations using autonomous mobile robots, along with some insider recommendations on how to mitigate those barriers.

First off, let’s quickly review the value that can be generated by AMRs—robots that work independently of both people and orders:

  • 50% increase in worker efficiency compared to current throughput of cart picking or pick-to-belt scenarios
  • Pick rate increase of more than 3x when 100% independent robots work with pickers
  • Fewer “human touches” results in dramatic increase in picking accuracy and order quality
  • Payback in under 12 months

Given these compelling points, it’s no wonder there’s a wave of interest in robotic piece picking. But if you haven’t yet moved from interest to action, it might be due to one of these five common misperceptions:

  1. Robot technology is risky and unproven at scale

It often takes influential “first movers” to demonstrate the real results that get the rest of the industry going. Of course, distribution centers have been adopting automation and robotics since the invention of the assembly line. Our research shows that a good first step step is to initiate small scale AMR deployments that demonstrate efficacy, then scale up. Happily, AMRs are extremely cost-effective and easy to add incrementally. They can be rolled out with very little impact on existing infrastructure. Companies may start with a small product category or a selected area of the warehouse then scale by phasing in more robots.

  1. Robot-based solutions are expensive

What we found was implementing an AMR solution does not trigger expensive infrastructure reconfigurations, physical plant remodeling, worker retraining, and system integration fees. Instead, labor efficiency drives ROIs that can be measured in months, not years. The cost of AMR is a fraction of the cost of alternative approaches such as, conveyors, and fixed automation. Robots and pickers can work side by side, allowing existing (brown-field) DCs to be quickly and easily retrofitted with no disruption in daily output. The DC can keep fulfilling the core business as AMRs are added, something not possible with conveyor or other fixed automation conversions.

  1. The software hasn’t kept up with robotic hardware

Our conversations revealed that initially, vendors provided robot hardware that required extensive custom software programming to integrate with existing warehouse and order management systems. But today’s next-generation AMR technology optimizes the entire workflow by managing orders, workers and robots independently for the highest level of benefit. Because of advances in the maturity of the solutions, today’s robust, mature, comprehensive software-hardware systems integrate more easily with base systems, are easier to administer, and manage.

  1. Integration to current systems is difficult and risky

Our interviews revealed that some warehouse and fulfillment teams fear that their existing systems will have to be modified to meet the robots’ requirements. This is an understandable fear, but today’s robotic solutions come coupled with a mature software system. The WMS (or equivalent) sends orders and the robotic system sends back completions.  To the WMS, the AMR software is just another picker to send orders to, and that picker sends a notification back when the product has been picked.

  1. Cultural change is a big organizational risk (workers will reject them)

In our experience, AMR technology is a major job satisfaction improver that dramatically reduces stress and physical strain on workers, while raising accuracy. This leads directly to better worker retention.

For some, there is a perception that employees and management are predisposed not to embrace robotics as a worker-friendly productivity booster. The managers we spoke to praise robotic workflows as a way to retain core workers while relying less on temporary and flex help. Reducing touches and the human mistake rates that are inherent to manual systems results in higher productivity, process quality, and fewer unhappy customers. Win-win.

In an era dominated by growing ecommerce demands and shortages of labor, workflows must be transformed. The more execs we talk to, the more we find who consider autonomous mobile robots to be the most significant replenishment power-up available to warehouse teams today. When robots work completely untethered from workers and are independent from the orders being picked, each element can be scheduled and optimized specifically. This is only possible with robots that can pick up and place containers without any worker intervention.

We’ve found that the most common barriers to AMR adoption are largely based on misperceptions that are easily swept aside. Early adopters are finding out how little real risk is involved in adopting game-changing AMR automation. For more about overcoming these five “barriers,” read our whitepaper.

5 Piece-Picking Benefits Only Independent Mobile Robots Can Deliver

5 Piece-Picking Benefits Only Independent Mobile Robots Can Deliver

Contributed by Fred Hajjar, Managing Partner at Weston Supply Chain Consulting

(Dramatic cost savings, yes, but there’s more…)

When supply chain professionals ask the question: “ What are the practical benefits of independent mobile robotics?” they expect to hear the answer “They deliver substantial cost savings.” But the full answer is that adding next-generation robotics to your warehouse also impacts your revenue, competitiveness and growth. In addition to lowering labor expenses and mitigating resource constraints, robots speed up and improve order fulfillment functions in uniquely scalable ways that drive a transformation in cost structure and productivity for accelerating business growth.

So the full answer to the question “What are the benefits of robotics?” encompasses these five facets:

1.      Higher Labor Productivity

The most-cited “go to” benefit by users of distribution center robotics. Labor expense reduction drives ROIs that can be measured in months, not years. Multishift and peak execution approach “first shift” productivity due to the simplification of the picker’s task and general streamlining of the human processes. Independent mobile robotic solutions let pickers pick while the robots do everything else. Early cases show up to 100% increase in labor productivity.

2.      Higher Throughput Capacity

One of the most understated benefits of robotic enabled picking and replenishment.  Without the need for expensive smart conveyors and major infrastructure investments, independent mobile robotic solutions allow manual DCs to be enabled with few infrastructure modifications. The robots and pickers can work side by side, which allows existing DCs to be quickly and easily retrofitted with no disruption in daily output.  Automation can be added in small steps and phased to match growth in demand. This produces higher order fulfillment rates per hour from the existing facility. The DC can keep fulfilling the core business as the adoption is added. This is simply not possible with smart conveyor or other fixed automation conversions.

3.      Capital Cost Reduction:

Traditional methods of expanding picking capacity entail major infrastructure cost. Costs may be incurred for additional DC locations, building expansion, adding conveyor systems, AS/RS systems, new picking mezzanines, and much more.  Independent mobile robotics solutions require significantly less capital cost. In many cases picking to discrete orders eliminates expensive secondary sortation and removes constraints imposed by manual picking and packing activities. Leveraging the robotic workflow produces a rapid-payback, low-capital solution.

4.      Peak and Off-Shift Productivity:

What if you could deploy fewer, better trained workers instead of an army of temps? Non-first-shift activities chronically suffer from lower productivity, staffing difficulties, and high turnover. Independent mobile robotic workflows can ramp up for the peak season with less additional labor, and bring even new workers up to speed more quickly.  The streamlined process delivers a two-fold benefit: lower training time/skills requirements plus increased execution excellence. Both the day shift and the off-shift are made more efficient because as the day shift becomes more productive, off-shift requirements go down.  Higher picker productivity enables shorter shifts. The work is done with fewer resources, more efficiently in less total time.

5.      Revenue Enhancement:

Customers buy more when they get what they want when they want it, at the cost they want to pay. Adopting a next generation robotic workflow impacts revenue and growth directly by supporting higher levels of demand with speedier click-to-door fulfillment and lower costs.  Over the past 5 years delivery expectations have collapsed from 6 days to 1 day (or less). Failing to deliver on those customer expectations consistently results in lost market share and brand damage.

The agile robotic workflow provides more flexibility for market capture/demand shaping activities like flash sales and promotions. By reducing touches, shrinkage and the human mistake rates that are inherent to manual systems, higher peak demand can be met with high process quality, resulting in fewer unhappy customers and returns. Next generation mobile robotic workflows enable you to execute faster while holding margin and quality.

Conclusion:

The benefits of adopting a next generation robotic workflow for picking and replenishment are real and quantifiable.  With these benefits the use of robotics in the warehouse is inevitable.  The onus is on supply chain professionals to get in front of this shift before they are left behind.

Where do you want to be in 5 years?