Gripping Lessons – The 3Rs of Robotic Piece-picking: Range, Rate, Reliability
Updated: Oct 3, 2019
E-commerce has turned conventional logistics and material handling inside out. Traditional material handling processes focused on moving pallets with cases of goods from distribution centers to brick-and-mortar retail stores, where customers would do their shopping. The modern-day customer is doing more of their shopping online, expecting to get what they ordered delivered to their doorstep almost immediately. With the convenience of shopping from anywhere with an internet connection, this means that people are shopping more frequently, buying fewer items at a time.
Surging online order volume spanning millions of individual SKUs is driving double-digit annualized growth in e-commerce revenue. Coupled with a shrinking warehouse labor force, this compels us to rethink the overall approach to intralogistics operations. Enter robotic piece-picking, a technology that enables retailers to better meet consumers’ demands.
Demand is going to pieces
Customers now expect on-demand access to products at the individual piece level. This poses the challenge of how to get a specific item to your customer today, especially when the product can be one from hundreds of thousands of SKUs in a facility the size of 20 football fields. Each “touch” in the facility, whether part of inbound operations, outbound or inventory control, adds cost and consumes a valuable resource, the human associate who could be doing higher value work. Every touch, therefore, presents an opportunity to use robotic piece-picking.
The good news for supply chain managers is that there are multiple robotic piece-picking solutions available now. How do you cut through the clutter of techno-babble and choose the right solution? We propose a set of performance metrics to evaluate whether a solution is the right one for you. Introducing the 3Rs of robotic piece-picking: range, rate and reliability.
Range of items your customers demand
Range refers to the variety of SKUs that the piece-picking solution can handle. Retailers stock a wide range of products - across pharmaceutical, apparel, health and beauty, consumer electronics and general merchandise - in order to be a one-stop shop to stay competitive. Additionally, in many industries, the product catalog and the products themselves evolve and change over time. Therefore, when selecting a piece-picking solution, it’s important to evaluate the technology’s ability to handle large variations of items, including those it may have never seen before.
Rate that provides high throughput
Due to ongoing advancements in hardware and software technology, the speed at which robots can pick and move pieces is steadily increasing. Effective solutions that integrate computer vision (eye) and adaptive grasping hardware (hand) with intelligent software (coordination) are quick to identify items, select a motion path and execute the pick. In a continuous cycle where a robot transfers items one at a time between two adjacent totes, rates of 1,000 units per hour can be consistently sustained. When evaluating whether a robotic piece-picking solution can meet your rate requirements, it is critical to understand how the technology’s performance metrics are being measured compared to how it is measured in your warehouse workflow (e.g., continuously moving items across static, adjacent totes can be very different from moving items from multiple shelf locations to multiple tote locations on a nearby conveyor).
Reliability you can count on
Reliable robotic piece-picking provides order integrity (enabling you to get your customer exactly what they ordered). An effective system is also characterized by a high level of robot independence (operating continuously with minimal human intervention), and an ability to handle and recover from in-process exceptions (such as an inventory discrepancy).
"Advanced picking systems... improve via machine learning through experience gained over millions of picks across fleets of robots." - Understanding the 3Rs of Robotic Piece-Picking
Today’s robotic piece-picking solutions leverage some very new and exciting technologies. When combined intelligently, the results are simple: goods are picked and placed predictably, and customers receive what they ordered on time.
Download the full white paper: Understanding the 3Rs of Robotic Piece-Picking.