Dematic has expanded its solution set to include AutoStore, the ultra-high density goods-to-person piece picking system, giving omni-channel businesses the opportunity to quadruple their storage density for fast order fulfilment. By Daniel Aspin, Sales Lead at Dematic Northern Europe for AutoStore and James Smith, Business Development Manager at AutoStore.
Logistics is facing a new reality: eCommerce has shifted the focus from unit loads to singles, businesses are experiencing ever increasing demands for enhanced customer service, special events such as ‘Black Friday’ are creating huge disruptive peaks and warehouses are under constant pressure to perform – all this set against rising costs, shrinking labour availability and constricted warehouse space.
How can businesses adapt their existing warehouse operations to meet today’s new demands?
Distribution centres are now expected to do more, with less. Space is at a premium and moving location is both disruptive and expensive. So what can be done to maximise the efficiency and performance of existing sites, many of which may be of an awkward layout or restricted by columns? And how do you mitigate against rising labour costs and availability issues when you have a growing piece picking requirement?
A new partnership forged between Dematic and AutoStore may hold the answer to many of these challenges. AutoStore is a revolutionary concept, it is an ultra-compact storage and goods-to-person piece picking solution, and it is now available through Dematic, the leading global supplier of automated warehouse technology. As pioneers of cube storage, AutoStore has established a worldwide footprint of over 230 installations across 15 market sectors since its first application 15 years ago.
Whereas traditional shelving layouts are designed for people, wasting space with aisles and walkways, AutoStore offers a highly compact and cost-effective storage and order picking system for small items and packages, accessed and served by a fleet of intelligent robots.
Goods are stored in bins, stacked together in tight configuration, side-by-side and on top of each other, forming a dense block of bins housed in an aluminium grid that can be up to six metres deep and with a footprint as wide or as varied as needed. Storage space is fully utilised and, as AutoStore is built around the goods-to-person principle, robots do all the ‘walking’, fetching and putting-away, by travelling on top of the aluminium grid and then digging down to access each bin as required.
Flexibility and redundancy is assured as any robot can access any bin.
Retrieved bins are carried away to infeed/outfeed ports or picking stations, of which there are three configurations available as options, depending upon the capacity requirements of the system: conveyor port for up to 240 bins per hour, carousel port for up to 450 bins per hour or swing port for 160 bins per hour when mounted eight metres below the grid. These ports can be installed on all sides of the grid, or even under the grid when located on an upper floor.
Significantly, AutoStore shrinks the amount of space required for storage to 25% of the volume of a conventional store – which, put another way, means you can quadruple the inventory capacity of an existing building without having to extend or move. And the size of the installation can be completely variable, from just 1000 bins served by three robots, right up to a vast installation of 200,000 bins with over 100 supporting robots. What’s more, AutoStore’s inherent scalability and flexibility allows for easy upgrades and extensions to the system – simply increase the size of the grid or add extra robots as needed.
The system is particularly well suited to existing buildings, where an awkward layout or pillars may preclude other forms of automation. Its light, aluminium construction and use of intelligent robots give it immense flexibility, enabling the system to be built around obstacles and within difficult or irregular spaces – maximising storage density and space utilisation.
The robots themselves are independent units, battery operated and controlled by WiFi under the command of the AutoStore control system, with the content of the bins managed by Dematic iQ software or customer-specific WMS software. Each robot has two sets of wheels that enable the intelligent machines to traverse the grid and access any bins, as required.
Every robot is equipped with a hoist that allows the machine to pull out lower bins in the grid, which in larger systems may be 5.4m below the surface. As the bins come in two sizes – 649mm x 449mm base by 330mm for a high bin and 220mm for a low bin (designed to take a 600mm x 400mm box) – the maximum stack is either 16 or 24 units, depending on the size of bin. Although digging down takes a little longer, the clever ordering of the system places fast moving items nearer the top, with slower moving products gravitating towards the lower levels.
This makes AutoStore particularly attractive to businesses with a large number of SKUs as the Pareto principle will tend to prescribe that the top 20% of fast movers will be on top of the matrix.
AutoStore appeals to a wide range of industries and has been installed across businesses involved in apparel, hobbies and sports equipment, jewellery, pharmaceuticals, parts centres, electrical components and electronics, sanitation supplies, paper and packaging and a host of eCommerce and web shop applications.
One efulfilment business in the Netherlands gained 75% more storage capacity per square meter following the implementation of an AutoStore system with 30,000 plastic bins. The company now works four times as efficiently as before and has a significantly reduced error rate.
Security can also be an important consideration for many businesses. As humans cannot easily access product in an AutoStore grid – as there are no open shelves and walkways – the system is inherently secure. What’s more, power consumption is low too. Ten robots use the same energy as one vacuum cleaner, and unlike people, they don’t need lights.
Built in redundancy is another big plus factor for AutoStore, particularly when compared to AS/RS and other more traditional automated solutions for feeding goods-to-person systems. If a crane goes down, that’s quite a problem. However, if a robot develops a fault it can be simply taken out of service and its task will be taken over by another robot – so essentially no, or little, downtime.
Of course, creating a solution with a capacity geared to the needs of an expanding business requires close consideration and analysis of throughput, SKU range, pick rates and peaks, as well as a view on expected future demand. The scalability and flexibility of AutoStore allows each installation to be configured specifically to the demands of just about any business, as almost any speed can be achieved by adding enough robots, bins and workstations. In fact, the system can be configured to realise thousands of picks per hour.
Businesses looking for a step-change in performance from their existing manual operations may well find AutoStore the best all-round solution – without having to move or extend the warehouse.