I sit tonight, Tuesday, April 5th, writing about MODEX from a public hotel computer. I will fully disclose that I am using a public computer because I spilled coffee on my laptop earlier today. I feel as if I have been accepted into the fraternity of office fools…
For those of you unfamiliar with MODEX, it is the sister show to Promat, also hosted by MHI, and similarly focused on material handing and warehouse automation. A full range of material handling, warehouse automation, and other supply chain technologies are exhibited each year. However, I have noticed that each year’s show has its own common thread or theme that jumps out due to its prevalence. Last year at Promat I noted that the exhibitors were heavily focused on ecommerce fulfillment, adding additional emphasis on the differentiation and value offered by their software applications. Similar to Promat last year, this year’s MODEX show is heavily focused on ecommerce fulfillment. However, this year the prevalent themes that jumped out at me are the increased emphasis on shuttle systems and autonomous mobile robotics and the software development efforts and advancements in real-time processing and optimization.
Shuttle systems are not new. Autonomous robotics in the warehouse are new, but not within the past year. However, the evolution of both technologies is striking. Most (all?) major warehouse automation suppliers now offer a shuttle system with some vendors such as SSI Schaefer and KNAPP offering multiple shuttles that target a range of requirements. Futhermore, the systems are becoming more flexible, allowing users to adapt to changing order profiles and throughput requirements – both essential capabilities for ecommerce fulfillment. At the same time, autonomous mobile robotics has moved from the concept phase to commercial availabilty and practical consideration. Meanwhile, the advancements in software capabilities have been focused on providing and leveraging real-time information. To be clear, I am not referring to mechatronics. Rather, the advancements leverage real-time information to enable dynamic business process adjustments in the warehouse.
Below are brief overviews of notable and novel shuttle systems and autonomous robotics systems on display at MODEX 2016.
Movers and Shakers
SSI Schaefer CUBY
SSI offers a range of multi-level shuttle systems, but recently added its CUBY single level shuttle to the mix. CUBY is a fast moving shuttle for bins and/or cartons that is scalable and suitable for ecommerce and other variable, high volume warehouse environments.
Knapp, like SSI, offers a number of shuttle systems. However, it recently added the YLOG shuttle to its suite of shuttles. The YLOG shuttle, logically enough, came to Knapp through the acquisition of YLOG. The newest version is an enhancement of the model obtained at time of acquisition. This shuttle is a 3D system, in the sense that it runs on single level similar to single level shuttles, but can also pivot 90 degrees and run on the perpendicular axis. Finally, the shuttle can be moved to different levels while maintaining its power capabilities.
Intelligrated recently joined the list of vendors with a market-ready shuttle system. Its OLS (one-level shuttle) can carry a wide payload range and is able to roam from level to level for additional flexibility. Intelligrated currently has two active OLS customers with the first expected to go-live next quarter (Q3).
Fetch Robotics Freight
I have previously mentioned the robotics start-up, Fetch Robotics, on LogisticsViewpoints. Fetch Robotics was demonstrating its Freight robot in the Follow-pick mode application in which the robot works with associates by following them through the picking process and then autonomously dispatches the order to its warehouse destination while the picker continues with his/her picking process.
Locus Robotics demonstrated its order fulfillment system that features its LocusBots. Its robots work with warehouse staff to increase worker and overall warehouse productivity. The value driver of this solution appears to be its flexibility and the intelligence with which it utilizes the robots and staff to efficiently manage the facility workload.
Omron recently acquired Adept and with it obtained its robotics solution sent. Lynx is an autonomous robot that has fairly widespread deployment in light manufacturing operations, primarily wafer fabrication clean room facilities. Although the solution has its roots in light payload manufacturing environments, clearly Adept has established its robotics capabilities and is in a good position to leverage its expertise toward warehouse applications either through direct go-to-market or in partnership with warehouse automation systems integrators.