WAREHOUSE AUTOMATION – HOW AUTOMATED PICKING SYSTEMS ARE REVOLUTIONISING WAREHOUSE MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS
Alec Jackson, Systems Sales Manager, RARUK Automation Ltd discusses the benefits and technological advancements of automated order picking.
What types of automated picking systems are there?
Most traditional picking is based on ‘man to goods’ operations, whereby operatives walk up and down isles of racking to find the correct bin location. They then pick the items from that bin. This method can take up a lot of floor space and unless forklift trucks are available (which can bring their own issues), limits the height of the storage area.
Some automated systems work on that same principle but utilise autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), some with cobots mounted on them to replace the operative, whilst others allow for an operator to work within smaller areas and autonomous mobile robots move between the racking areas for the full order pick to be achieved.
The replenishment of goods involves the same movements to be carried out.
Depending on the necessary return on investment (ROI), a faster and more efficient method is ‘goods to man’. This eliminates the time-consuming and less-productive movements of the operator, leaving them free for better resource utilisation. This can be achieved with a vertical lift module.
How can automation be used to assist warehouse staff in manual picking and carrying out their tasks?
If we take the EffiMat system as an example of an automated storage solution, the full height of the warehouse (up to 12m with a free-standing unit) can be utilised with a small footprint of actual floor space being taken (2874mm wide x 2363mm deep) and the operator only needs to move within a small area in front of the system.
The EffiMat utilises box moving technology, which is 4-5 times faster than the traditional lift modules on the market, working both vertically and horizontally, to deliver five 600mm x 400mm tote boxes, each weighing up to 25kg, at a time. These totes can also be sub-divided and presented directly to the operator at a rate of up to 250 boxes per hour, regardless of their position within the tower. This means they are picking a minimum of 5 of the correct stock keeping unit (SKUs) with every operation of the system; dramatically increasing the picking rate and minimises picking errors. Replenishment is also faster as the operator can re-stock a minimum of 5 SKUs at a time without having to move away from their area. Replenishment can also be done automatically by introducing complete boxes via conveyor into the back of the EffiMat.
Systems such as this one can have openings on multiple floors and high flexibility to allow for seamless connection to additional system units, conveyors and robots such as mobile industrial robots.
How important are put-to-light systems in maintaining operational efficiency in supply chains?
There are several ways to pick and replenish products. One is ‘pick-to-light’ which highlights the area to be picked from. It only shows the area where the goods are located and operators need more information, for example, the quantity to be picked. When working in a large area, this may not always be easy to see.
An alternative is to limit the area the operator is working in and have a clear operator screen which gives all the information required, highlighting on the screen the area to be picked from, the quantity, part specification, image of the part, etc. With a large 24” control panel, located at eye level, placed in the middle of the picking area an automated storage solution provides the optimal working environment for operators.
What are the advantages of using ASRS?
Automated storage and retrieval systems can be seen as essential to optimising performance and delivering the fastest process whilst minimising non-productive movements. They also take up less valuable floor space.
How effective is goods-to-man picking?
Goods-to-man picking when compared with traditional racking systems, can dramatically increase pick rates. This is because non-productive movements and picking errors are minimised.
To what extent is human labour still important in picking processes?
Although robotic systems have vastly improved over the years, and automated robotic picking is being incorporated into automated storage solutions, technology still has a way to go until a fully autonomous system can be supplied. Products are not all the same shapes and sizes and some still need the dexterity of a human for picking.
How is automated technology improving the health and safety of warehouse staff?
In the present climate it is difficult to find staff and keep them. Automated storage solutions such as the EffiMat system look after operatives and eliminate the walking required in the ‘man to goods’ approach to order picking. Thus reducing the more manual and less interesting aspects of a picking role whilst the provision of an ergonomic picking area reduces the need for overreaching and therefore reduces strain, fatigue and risks of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) on staff. They are encouraged to feel valued with a more sophisticated aspect to their role.
Why choose RARUK Automation to help increase efficiency in your warehouse order picking?
Automated storage solutions provide easier access to parts for warehouse operatives, whilst providing security and a better overview of stock with integrated feedback to the warehouse management system (WMS), as well as fast ROI. The EffiMat solutions come complete with EffiSoft. This software allows simple integration to all enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and supports both simple and advanced logistics solutions. EffiSoft can manage both order picking systems and manual picking locations. It allows users to achieve effective product flow management, increased efficiency and picking speed, due to order structure analysis (leading to lower error rates), as well as automated stock checking and inventory counting. Many applications will require a combination of storage options to cope with the fast-moving product, slower moving items and bulk storage. Based on customer data and process analytics RARUK Automation design a ‘best fit solution’ for each application and generate comprehensive key performance indicator reports with ROI data included.
By utilising our own analytical software together with our experience, we work with each customer to analyse the best use and mix of automation to suit their picking frequency of SKUs. Ensuring that they have the best solution for them. EffiMat provides a high picking efficiency and ClassicMat is suitable for lower frequency items needing high density storage and occasionally, racking for bulk items.
With this combination, RARUK Automation can confidently address all item types whilst retaining flexibility for future changes and the introduction of new products and demands.