Autonomous Mobile Robotics In Action at RK Logistics

Last year after the MODEX exhibition I stated that autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) had moved from the concept phase to commercial availability and practical consideration. At this year’s Promat show I set out to evaluate the commercial progress of AMR in the warehouse. Ideally the progress would be confirmed by referenceable customers willing to discuss their operational success along with the financial feasibility of the solutions. Just yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Cindy Traver, the senior director of operations at RK Logistics, about her firm’s successful use of Fetch Robotics’ Virtual Conveyor solution.

RK Logistics is a leading logistics services provider supporting high-tech businesses in the Silicon Valley area. RK had expanded its site in Livermore, CA to 300,000 square feet and increased the facility’s throughput considerably. Still, RK Logistics’ customers were expressing demand for even more throughput, but the facility was encroaching upon several capacity constraints. Looking for a viable solution, RK Logistics evaluated the use of robotics as a means of increasing worker efficiency and the overall throughput of the facility. The company chose Fetch Robotics’ Virtual Conveyor solution as the option that best met its requirements. The Virtual Conveyor solution incorporates Freight series robots, charging stations, and the Fetchcore fleet management system that orchestrates and coordinates the fleet, its travel paths, and its workload. RK Logistics chose to introduce the Fetch Robotics AMR solution in phases.

Phase 1 Increases Volumes and Delivers ROI
RK Logistics deployed Fetch Robotics’ Virtual Conveyor solution to support the spare parts and manufacturing parts fulfillment operations of a leading provider of microchip manufacturing machinery. The solution simultaneously runs three Freight series robots 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The robots are positioned in locations central to the highest pick volumes of parts, each robot stationed about 6-7 rows apart.  Workers receive orders on their RF guns, pick a wave, then load onto the robot and dispatch it for consolidation to outbound shipment. The robots transport the items and free up employee time to focus on the higher value-added processes. Phase 1 has been in operation for over six months and achieved its throughput goals and achieved a rapid payback on the cost of implementation. Furthermore, RK Logistics increased throughput volumes with less man hours, reducing its cost per line item, which ultimately allowed it to pass on savings to its customer.

What’s Next – Phases 2 and 3
In the next phase, RK Logistics will integrate the Fetch Virtual Conveyor solution with its WMS. This will automate the robot dispatch process and introduce greater flexibility by enabling the robots to more easily work across zones. In phase 3, RK Logistics plans to introduce robots with higher load capacity into the receiving area to transport inbound loads to put-away locations in the warehouse.

Final Word
During our discussion, I asked Cindy Traver how she felt the Fetch AMR solution differed from more traditional automatic guided vehicle (AGVs) systems. She confirmed my view. The Fetch Robotics solution utilizes advanced sensing technology that allows the robots to work dynamically with people while avoiding other mobile objects such as forklifts. But more importantly, the Fetch AMR solution is programmable and adaptable to changing facility needs, such as changes in routing requirements or other parameters. In contrast, traditional AGVs typically operate from point A to B and are only one step more flexible than bolted down hardware that requires a facility to adapt its operations to layout of the installed automation.

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