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

Swisslog: From pallets to cases to pieces
The world of materials handling is getting smaller, says Markus Schmidt, senior vice president for Swisslog. “The order that shipped as a pallet a few years ago is shipped as a case today and will be shipped as a piece tomorrow,” says Schmidt. “The quantities received at the store are smaller and more precise. This has a profound impact on the distribution center.”

By precise, Schmidt means that stores want to receive their deliveries packed and sequenced in a way that reduces the labor requirement in the stores. “If you can do something in the DC that allows you to replenish the shelf in the right sequence, you can operate a store with one or two less employees,” Schmidt says. “For a retailer with a thousand stores, that has a major impact. There’s no way to achieve that without technology.”

Those changes have opened the door for picking solutions that bring items to a workstation, such as multi-shuttles and mobile robotic solutions. “Kiva created a market for this type of entry-level, goods-to-person picking solution and we have a similar technology in our portfolio with the AutoStore,” says Schmidt.

Schmidt believes the next horizon will be vision-guided, robotic piece-picking solutions and shuttles that can roam a facility to make a delivery. “Today, the shuttle delivers its load to a conveyor,” says Schmidt. “Tomorrow, I believe we’ll see the shuttle leave the racking and go where the conveyor would go. Think of it as a free-roaming shuttle solution.”

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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