Merchandise-to-person is an order picking and picking method in which products are delivered directly to the picker through automated systems. With the rapid growth of e-commerce and recent online grocery shopping, quick order picking is becoming necessary and an essential skill for many businesses. Traditionally, the goods-to-person method is made possible by large and complex AS/RS systems where shuttle carts, roller conveyors and lifting cranes are used to transport items. Recently, the implementation of mobile robots in warehouses for automation has been increasingly popular, and the logistics mobile robot market attracts millions or even billions of dollars of investment every year, according to IDTechExThe report “Mobile Robotics in Logistics, Warehousing and Delivery 2022-2042“. There are some forms of mobile robotic systems that can perform goods-to-person operations in a more flexible, scalable, and efficient manner.
Breakdown of private funding of the logistics mobile robotics market in 2021 by product type. Source: IDTechEx – “Mobile Robotics in Logistics, Warehousing and Delivery 2022-2042“
The most widely used mobile robots for goods-to-person are grid-based automated guided carts (AGCs) that follow the floor-standing QR code grid to move shelves or pallets to pickers. The robots work in a compact storage area separated from other work areas. Human pickers only interact with robots through picking stations to pick ordered items from shelves or pallets.
In addition to grid-based AGCs, a relatively new form of mobile picking robot, checkout picking robots began to be deployed by major mobile robot companies in 2019. Checkout picking robots pick and manipulate regular-shaped articles, such as boxes, bins, bins and cartons containing the ordered articles to be picked, with their telescopic forks or their vacuum grippers.
Despite taking different forms, the automation of goods to the person can significantly improve the order picking process in many ways. Four major improvements over non-automated picking are listed below:
Picking still causes workers to waste most of their time doing non-value added work of moving around the warehouse to find items to pick. As a result, single workers can only pick a maximum of 100 to 150 items per hour. Whereas with mobile robots, workers only have to stay at the picking station waiting for the robots to bring the items, performing the sophisticated picking jobs that are currently very difficult or impossible for the robots to perform. So, by using mobile robots to automate goods-to-person, a single picker can potentially pick 600 to 650 items per hour at most.
Less labor intensity
If mobile robots are implemented, human workers do not have to move around the warehouse carrying heavy objects or pulling carts. They only have to stay in one area and pick up items, which creates a less tiring and less intense working condition.
Due to the improved productivity and the special “goods to person” mode, less manpower will be required in the warehouse, and the labor cost can be greatly reduced. Even though the implementation of mobile robotic systems requires initial capital, the return on investment should be rapid, typically two years. In addition, recently, the Robot-as-a-Service business model has been accepted by more companies and customers, in which customers use the services of providers on a monthly subscription basis or pay-per-use.
Lower error rate
Mobile robot operations are controlled by the fleet management system which is often integrable with warehouse management systems (WMS) and powered by AI. Therefore, the system can give robots the optimized transport routes of items and can change their tasks dynamically with incoming commands. With minimal human intervention, the system can accurately bring the desired items to be picked, thus minimizing the error rate in the entire order picking process.