As long as warehouse operations work in perfect sequence, mixed SKU order picking and palletizing work great in your warehouse operations. But what happens when cases aren’t presented in the right sequence or fall off leaving your pallet with an inaccurate or unstable shipment?
At MODEX 2012, Symbotic’s Chief Technology Officer, Larry Sweet, delivered his thoughts on the topic of next generation, automated packing, kitting, and palletizing based on his experience developing a robot-based case sequencing operation in a C&S Wholesale Grocer’s warehouse that has been in operation for 14 months producing millions of case pallets.
Like so many industries before, the need to lower operational costs has propelled the adoption of robotic automation. With over two-thirds of the cost of goods on the shelf at your grocery store due to supply chain costs, there is an urgent need to build efficiencies into the network itself.
But the problem with automation is diversity – dealing with all sorts of products, packaging sizes and types.
The concept of automating case handling is broken down into three processes:
- De-Palletizing: the process of disassembling or breaking down “rainbow” or “full” pallets from the manufacturers and preparing them for storage. It is typically the least complex of the steps but requires sophisticated end-of-arm tooling of the robotics for SKU recognition and identifying the characteristics of the packing in preparation for storage.
- Storage & Selection: the process of storing and retrieving cases within a dense, rack system either individually or in layers with the goal of having enough cases of all the different SKUs in the storage system at any given time to build a store-friendly pallet. This requires software that is constantly monitoring the replenishment of product in the system. The most challenging aspect of this process is achieving a high flow rate and sequence for optimal palletizing. Mobile bots can be used to dynamically store and retrieve different SKUs to supply pallets to and from robot layer picking or palletizing systems.
- Palletizing: involving the process of retrieving product from a storage system that arrives in perfect sequence so that a robotic arm can solve the three-dimensional puzzle of creating a geometric pattern that will yield a stable and high cube density and store-friendly mixed-case pallet.
Mixed case palletizing is the biggest challenge facing robotic automation today and to do it successfully, the solution has to incorporate all three processes.
It is for this reason that there are so few vendors who are actually delivering this type of efficiency — which is the essential ingredient of any successful operational solution. It requires sophisticated software that instructs industrial robots but is ultimately the most effective approach to reducing the cost and complexity of material handling in today’s business.Tags: as/rs, automated material handling, automated storage and retrieval, automated warehouse system, c&s wholesale grocers, de-palletizing, depal, larry sweet, mixed case palletizing, mixed sku order picking, modex, modex 2012, order fulfillment, order picking, palletizing, robotic automation, sku, supply chain, supply chain automation, symbotic, video, warehouse automation, warehouse operations, warehouse system