AutoStore aims to sit at the center of every order journey, but what does that mean for the rest of the warehouse? In this blog, I’ll describe the upstream and downstream options you can integrate into the system for those wondering how the cubic Grid fits into their larger warehouse setting.
To imagine how AutoStore fits into your wider warehouse operations, it first helps to consider a simple, standard order journey:
AutoStore specifically addresses the put-away or decant of goods into the automation cycle, as well as the storage, management, and picking of those items. When considering the end-to-end journey, there are many supplemental technologies that can complement a successful AutoStore installation.
First, we’ll consider upstream operations, namely receiving and putting away goods. Receiving often consists of pallets and cases coming from inbound trucks that require some form of sortation or handling. Next, that inventory is put away into what is considered a pickable location, which can be the AutoStore Grid, a manual shelf, or a reserve location in case of overstock.
The most common upstream technologies are standard forklifts (sometimes autonomous) for receiving pallet quantities and conveyance sortation for cases. This is because the primary goal is simply to move inventory to the right location. If a customer doesn’t need to send inventory by pallet to two distinct locations, this process can be as simple as dropping pallets next to AutoStore Ports for induction into the Grid. However, when product doesn’t come on pallets or they have multiple location destinations, conveyors can help reduce the labor required to unload trucks and transport goods.
In a highly advanced warehouse, automated box cutters and robotic arms for depalletization or decanting can be used upstream of the AutoStore to further reduce labor. But these technologies are best suited for stock-keeping unit (SKU) assortments and cases with low variability. Regardless of the chosen tech, AutoStore offers different Ports with varying Bin presentation rates that can integrate these processes seamlessly.
Moving downstream of the AutoStore system, there is more design variety available based on order profile, packaging, customer experience, shipping schedule, transportation type, and more, but this doesn’t mean it has to be overly complicated. Many operations involve picking inventory directly to the outbound shipping container. In this scenario, pick-to-light technology can be used to gain efficiency at the pick station where outbound containers are staged either on a cart, shelf, or conveyor to take orders to outbound shipping. However, some operations require consolidating inventory across different pick or temperature zones. This is where sortation technology is useful. Even in the original example, sortation is often used to direct outbound containers to designated shipping lanes or locations. Today, there are so many options for sortation, with the best selection depending on several characteristics. Here are the most common options:
A shoe sorter consists of a conveyor belt with a series of narrow, slanted "shoes" or diverts that can move items from the main conveyor onto different downstream conveyors or chutes. The shoes are controlled electronically and can be activated to divert items to their designated destination based on specific sorting criteria, such as destination, size, weight, or other parameters.
A pocket sorter features a series of individual pockets or compartments, typically arranged in a grid or matrix configuration. Each pocket can hold an item, and the pockets can move horizontally or vertically to transport items to their designated locations. Pocket sorters are often used for high-speed sorting of small- or medium-sized items, such as parcels or packages, based on predetermined sorting rules.
A tray sorter is a sorting system that utilizes trays or containers to transport items through a sorting process. The trays are typically equipped with diverts or tilt mechanisms that can direct items into different chutes or conveyors based on the desired sorting criteria. Tray sorters are commonly used in postal and parcel sorting facilities, as well as in e-commerce fulfillment centers, where they enable efficient and accurate sorting of various items.
AMRs are robotic systems capable of autonomously navigating and performing tasks in dynamic environments without the need for fixed infrastructure. These robots use a combination of sensors, mapping algorithms, and decision-making capabilities to move around and interact with their surroundings. AMRs can be used for various purposes, such as material handling, order picking, inventory management, and even collaborative tasks alongside human workers. They offer flexibility, adaptability, and scalability in warehouse and logistics operations.
Robotic shuttle sortation refers to a system that combines robotic shuttles with sorting capabilities. Robotic shuttles are autonomous vehicles that can move horizontally and/or vertically within a controlled environment, such as a warehouse or fulfillment center. They are equipped with storage compartments or racks to transport items. In the context of sortation, robotic shuttle systems use these shuttles to pick up items from an input station and transport them to designated sorting locations based on predefined criteria. The shuttles work in coordination with software systems to optimize the sorting process, improving efficiency and throughput.
Finally, in addition to technology used for movement and sortation, there are also many technologies that can be used for packaging and labeling. From fully automated packaging machines, to right-sized box erectors, these can be used to not only reduce labor but to minimize corrugate waste and shipping costs by more efficiently packaging orders. These machines often feed into an automated label applicator to further reduce touches and required labor.
Ultimately, with AutoStore at the core, the upstream and downstream possibilities are endless. While weighing all the options, it's important to understand your business goals and priorities:
All of these questions could shape your overall automation strategy and the specific decisions you make about how to combine AutoStore and complementary technologies.
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