Big Picture: The state of automation

More companies are looking to materials handling automation to improve processes and lower operating costs. Modern asked 10 leading systems integrators what the future of automation might look like.

Conveyor and sortation systems are using software and controls to manage the flow of goods while distributing work in a way that eliminates bottlenecks.

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
May 01, 2012 - MMH Editorial
Knapp USA: Look for more shuttles
“We have a saying at Knapp,” says Josef Mentzer, COO for Knapp USA. “OSR is the answer. What is the question?”

At Knapp, OSR stands for Order Storage and Retrieval. That is the company’s moniker for systems that use mobile shuttles instead of mini-load cranes for the high-density storage of cartons, totes and individual products weighing about 100 pounds or less.

As more and more end users focus on smaller deliveries and each picking, Mentzer believes the market for shuttles is poised for exponential growth. “We developed shuttle technology to optimize the storage and picking of slow moving items,” he says. “Today, we have 1,400 each picking solutions in operation, using thousands of shuttles. Those shuttles are being used across industries, and they’re being adapted to buffering, shipping sortation and work-in-process. It’s not just picking any longer.”

In addition to efficient processes, Mentzer says shuttles are sustainable, requiring about 5% of the electricity required to operate a mini-load AS/RS and only about 20% of the electricity required for a carousel system.

They are also capable of more cycles per hour in a smaller space than a mini-load. “A mini-load can typically do 100 to 150 double cycles per hour per aisle,” Mentzer says. “With a shuttle, I can do more than 700 cycles per hour per aisle. Basically, it takes four to five aisles of a mini-load to pull out the same number of items per hour as a shuttle.”

What’s next? Knapp is developing a vision-guided picking system as an alternative to RF- or voice-directed picking in conventional areas in the warehouse. “This is still an emerging solution,” says Mentzer. “But we believe it could change what we do in the warehouse and how we do it.”

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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