Transforming Warehouse Operations with Robotic AS/RS | Exotec

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Transforming Warehouse Operations with Robotic AS/RS

May 24, 2023

Customer demand for everything from faster year-round shipping to consistent order accuracy is growing despite the long and ever-changing list of challenges warehouses are facing — notably, keeping costs down and productivity up amidst labor shortages and supply chain disruptions. To meet these demands, warehouses are replacing manual, labor-intensive order fulfillment processes with robotic automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) that increase productivity and efficiency while lowering costs and providing employees with more ergonomic working conditions.  

Robotic automated storage and retrieval systems are no longer a “nice to have” — they are now vital for businesses to remain competitive today and through the future. This is evident in projections estimating that the global automated storage and retrieval system market size will hit $10.5 billion by 2027.

Businesses that fail to implement robotic automated storage and retrieval systems face higher costs, reduced productivity, and diminished customer satisfaction in comparison to their automated peers. In the end, warehouses that do not adopt robotic automated storage and retrieval systems risk struggling to stay competitive in the fast-evolving marketplace.

Exotec Skypod system automated storage and retrieval system

Five Warehouse Operations Tasks Transformed by Robotic Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

Order Picking

Order picking is the most laborious, resource-intensive, and costly component of the order fulfillment process within most warehouses. Furthermore, it maintains a direct correlation with customer satisfaction by influencing vital aspects valued by customers, including order accuracy, promptness, and inventory availability. As a result, order picking is widely regarded as the most crucial aspect of the order fulfillment process and fundamental to businesses’ overall success. 

Within manually operated warehouses, order picking typically involves employees walking numerous miles each day in search of ordered goods. This also involves repetitive bending and lifting, which can lead to fatigue and injuries.

Robotic automated storage and retrieval systems enhance warehouse productivity by decreasing the time needed for order picking, ultimately resulting in faster order processing speeds and shorter delivery times. This is accomplished by utilizing innovative hardware and software to transport ordered goods to ergonomic picking stations. From the stations, employees can efficiently and safely transfer ordered goods to the next phase of the fulfillment process, without the risk of manual picking related hazards such as slips, trips, and falls that are common while traversing the warehouse. Dependance on labor is also reduced, enabling warehouses to transition employees to more value-add tasks. 

Inventory Replenishment

Similar to order picking, inventory replenishment in manually operated warehouses is typically complex, physically demanding, and time-consuming. However, this process can be made more productive and efficient with the implementation of robotic automated storage and retrieval systems that leverage robots to travel between replenishment stations and tall, high-density storage racks. This alleviates employees from the most laborious and time-consuming aspects of the process. It is also a far superior option to being restricted to shelves that can only be utilized up to the height that employees can reach.

Nowadays, maximizing the vertical storage capacity of a warehouse is a significant concern. The demand for warehouse space throughout the country has been consistently high and shows no signs of declining anytime soon. Moreover, the shift towards online shopping during the pandemic has intensified the competition for warehouse space. In this context, robotic automated storage and retrieval systems can help by freeing up valuable floor space within the warehouse. This is achieved by maximizing the use of vertical space with tall, high-density storage racks. As a result, businesses can operate in smaller areas without being forced to expand operations to additional buildings.

Returns

Returns processing has become a prevalent issue, with 20-30% of all online orders being returned (even higher during the holidays). This process can significantly strain labor and increase inventory costs due to its unpredictable nature and drag on inventory turnover time. Nevertheless, robotic automated storage and retrieval systems provide the optimal solution by simplifying the sorting and storage processes of returns. For example, the Exotec® Skypod® system utilizes a Bin Interface, which automates the entry and removal of up to 320 bins per hour to and from high-density storage racks. This ensures an efficient flow of goods while significantly decreasing the risk of mishandling inventory.

Order Buffering

Order buffering entails storing completed orders within a storage system to be retrieved at a later time. It is key to ensuring fast order fulfillment times for a wide-variety of industries including grocery providers, manufacturing, healthcare, 3PLs and retail. 

The Exotec Skypod system enables businesses to efficiently buffer orders by transporting completed orders from stations to Bin Interfaces via a modular conveyor system called Skypath. Just like with inventory replenishment, the Bin Interface ensures an efficient flow of up to 320 bins per hour into and out of storage. Outbound completed orders are sent from the Bin Interface to the Skypath conveyor and then the next phases of the order fulfillment process.

Inventory Tracking & Accuracy

Robotic automated storage and retrieval systems improve order accuracy by reducing the likelihood of human error. Intuitive workstation interfaces and tools such as pick-to-light and put-to-light provide employees with more predictable and easier to manage work environments compared to searching for order goods among seemingly endless rows of shelves. 

With intelligent software, inventory information can be tracked throughout the system, providing on-demand access to accurate and easily analyzable data. This data can be used to transmit a vast amount of relevant information to managers quickly and accurately, enabling them to make more informed and better inventory related decisions.

Your Warehouse is Complex, Your Automated Solutions Don’t Need to Be

With the complex challenges modern warehouses are facing, finding ways to get the job done faster and more efficiently is crucial to success. The Exotec Skypod system can help you transform the most fundamental aspects of your warehouse with elegant goods-to-person warehouse robotic solutions. 

The Skypod system is fully modular allowing customers to deploy in a matter of weeks and easily expand without interrupting production by simply adding robots, stations, or racks. 30+ industry-leading brands including Carrefour, Decathlon, Gap, and Uniqlo trust Exotec to improve their operations and profitably navigate rapid shifts in business models while meeting customer expectations.

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