The Cutting Edge of Fulfillment Automation

Earlier today I came across a CNBC article about a “secret” logistics summit hosted by Alphabet, the parent company of Google. The reported objective was to “explore potential business models and investment opportunities in the e-commerce space with a focus in logistics and fulfillment.” The article and the meeting that it discusses gives me the impression that logistics is being viewed as a game changing competitive differentiator. I like that!

A few weeks ago, I noted some of the innovative offerings I have come across during my current research on the global AS/RS market. If you had a chance to view the video from Fabric, I think you would agree that the company’s approach of floor-based, free roaming carriers combined with an in-racking load-handling device is innovative.  Here are a few more providers with technologies that take a multi-dimensional approach to storage and retrieval to the cutting-edge. Do you see any potential game-changers here?

AS/RS Exotec Solutions is a start-up in Lille, France that offers what it calls the Skypod System. The system includes Skypod robots, a racking system, and picking stations. The Skypod bots travel independently on the warehouse floor to and from the racking. Once under the racking, the Skypods find a chimney to go vertical, drop off an empty tote in an available slot, pick the desired full tote, descend back to the floor, and proceed to a picking station for order preparation.  The system offers high storage density and a high degree of flexibility due to the independent movement of bots in two dimensions on the floor and vertical movement that is not dependent on stationary lifts. Exotec has a number of existing customers in France including Carrefour, Cdiscount, and E.Leclerc and is planning on expanding its offering to the US through a partnership with AHS (Advanced Handling Systems).

AS/RS Attabotics, a Calgary, Alberta based startup, offers what is calls a “3D robotic goods-to-person storage, retrieval and real-time order fulfillment” system. Although videos of its operation are difficult to find online, it is promoted as a high-density storage system with modular design with 3D travel by its bots in a system that includes Integrated sequencing and sortation. Although I have not spoken with an Attabotics representative about the details of the system, a US patent that lists Attabotics as the applicant describes a grid structure of cells with multiple storage units that surround a central void, allowing access to the bins on all sides of the void. The aligned voids create vertical shafts that span between upper and lower tracks of the grid structure, on which retrieval vehicles can travel horizontally to and from the various shafts which are assumedly used for vertical travel by the same bots. Attabotics states that its system has been adopted by major brands across a number of industries.

AS/RS BionicHIVE is an Israel-based start-up that appears to still be in the development phase. Its solution, named SqUID, is a warehouse automation solution that leverages autonomous robots that are retrofitted onto existing warehouse infrastructure. The bots move horizontally on the warehouse floor, pivot to vertically scale the tracks that are fitted onto racking, and also move horizontally in the racking on similar tracks. This solution, as demonstrated in the website video, is utilized for single-case picking. The obvious benefit to this system is the ability to utilize existing racking infrastructure, which could assumedly enable low upfront investment and short implementation times.

AutoStore, an established supplier in the light-goods AS/RS market, recently introduced its Black Line offering. The Black Line is meant to address the high throughput segment of the AS/RS market. The Black Line robot features an internal cavity design, a switchable battery pack, and direct drive motors in the wheelbase. These features, along with its high drive speeds, allow the system to achieve greater throughput while delivering the high-storage density that is associated with existing AutoStore deployments.

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