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Optimization of the current and future state of DC functions using AS / RS, robotics and software
Joe Kraft, Director of Software Solutions Consulting
The transition to advanced automation has progressed well in distribution and filling operations (D&F). In the four walls of the distribution centers, traditional labor-intensive process and material handling strategies will be replaced by more automatic options. Retail managers are beginning to automate and update certain aspects of their DC operations that are bending under the pressure of e-commerce.
Retailers at the forefront of this change are working to reduce the risks to profitability and business continuity by:
- Reducing labor dependence
- Increasing performance to meet service level agreements (SLAs)
- Allows flexibility to adapt to seasonal seasonal requirements
- Stay up to date with annual growth forecasts
New automation investments focus on achieving strategic supply chain benefits in critical picking, inventory warehousing and retrieval processes – where peak efficiencies do not match the complexity of completing e-commerce and increasing product range. As performance levels rise, delivery times decrease, and the workforce becomes more unpredictable, it becomes more difficult for retailers to maintain productivity and increase profit margins.
At the same time, evolving advanced automation solutions with an integrated range of software will further improve their operations and provide operators with attractive and achievable rates of return on investment.
Progress continues in key areas of activity
High-speed sorting equipment continues to play an essential role in large DC power sources with high throughput, high order volumes, and associated transmission and reception requirements. But while liberalization of traditional sorting and conveyor equipment is still largely impossible, integrated automation systems offer the opportunity to upgrade the core of many DC operations: picking, inventory storage, and order fulfillment orchestration.
Automatic storage and retrieval systems (AS / RS)
AS / RS can be deployed in existing DCs to maximize throughput and improve reception, order aggregation, and delivery efficiency. These flexible solutions offer higher storage densities with smaller footprints and the flexibility to adapt to different configurations.
High-speed AS / RS shuttle systems are ideally suited to replace manual picking for high volumes. The modular structure of the shelf and storage frames will allow new levels and corridors to be added to accommodate future growth in storage demand. Transportation systems are typically designed with goods-person (GTP) and goods-robot (GTR) configurations to eliminate pick-up times and, to a lesser extent, increase labor productivity.
The increased integration of robotics will also help DC leaders alleviate the growing pressures of e-commerce. Robotics strategies focus on replacing unwanted, dangerous, and repetitive manual tasks to free up available manpower resources for considered, more valuable roles. And in many cases, retailers are moving to robotics so that productivity exceeds human capabilities.
While the vision of a fully autonomous robot implementation operation is far from being realized, the latest advances in robotics are helping to change many critical workflows, processes, and applications, such as truck loading and unloading, sorter induction, and material transportation.
These flexible robot options can be adapted to take advantage of DC functions in many different ways:
- They can be activated or deactivated as needed to replenish and flex manual resources during peak times.
- They can be quickly programmed for new routes and tasks.
- They can be organized into a variety of automated workflows with a modern warehouse implementation system, such as Honeywell Intelligrated’s Momentum ™ WES.
In addition, modern robotics solutions operate on universal control platforms – such as the Honeywell Universal Robotics Controller (HURC) – enabling them to adapt to ever-changing DC conditions using robot-robot-machine learning techniques.
Intelligent software and simulation
As D&F operations automate and become more complex to keep up with demand, the integration of advanced Inventory Automation software will play an increasingly important role. Historically, inventory software has been designed to serve very specific functions, which has ultimately increased the complexity of DC functions. These problems can typically be traced to the presence of multiple software vendors on different automation systems and robotic platforms, which can lead to broken automation islands and ongoing obsolescence and upgrade challenges.
Often, this traditional, multi-vendor approach to software makes orchestrating a DC filling system impossible. Today, retailers and DC operators need to change their software strategies and deploy intelligent Warehouse Automation software platforms designed to reduce complexity:
- Unification of different automation systems
- Arrange all automation systems for complete implementation of the warehouse
- Simplify software support and update management
Modern Warehouse Automation software, such as Momentum, is designed to provide a unified, unified platform to enable advanced automation in complex DC environments. Momentum gives DC managers the tools to:
- Leverage operational data for workflow optimization and business data
- Use machine learning for intelligent decision making
- Combine order publishing and processing according to customer service level agreements and priorities
- Maximize AS / RS storage and stock availability
- Ensure job productivity and usage
- Organize advanced AS / RS and robotics for DC workflows
Start your transition
Honeywell Intelligrated offers advanced technologies and integrated software to help resellers transition from traditional workflows to fully integrated automation strategies. These tools provide a unified approach to software and advanced computing technologies, so these tools can provide a complete automation system for orchestration while minimizing integration complexities. With decades of expertise in the materials handling industry, we take a consultative approach to developing automation solutions that help forward-thinking companies meet their biggest fulfillment challenges and achieve a quick return on their investment.
Wherever you are in the continuum of automation, we can help you achieve solid fulfillment capabilities today and accelerate your progress toward an increasingly automated future.
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