Evolving Role of Piece-picking Robots in Fulfillment Operations

A summary of the Modern Materials Handling article, “Piece picking robots make their mark”

Between labor pressures and consumer appetites for e-commerce purchases, the need to improve the speed and accuracy of the “pick” in fulfillment operations is growing. Advances in robotic technology, including software-driven autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), enable robots to improve productivity and throughput in warehouse operations that serve both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce retail.

In an interview with Gary Forger of Modern Materials Handling, Jim Lawton, Vice President and General Manager, Zebra Robotics and Automation, talks about the evolution of piece-picking robots and the increasing important role they play in order fulfillment operations. These robots reduce the inefficiency and errors created by the sheer size of today’s warehouses, where line associates frequently have to walk miles and search for bins stacked on multi-story shelving units often for a single item.

With piece-picking robots, success comes first with characterizing the picking process—is it manual? Automated? Batch? Based on persons-to-goods or goods-to-person? Then what are all the tasks associated with the pick, e.g., moving totes, labelling, organizing, etc.? With that intelligence, workflows can be managed so robots do what they are best designed to do—reducing the inefficiency of travel time—and people do what they are best at—finding the right item and placing it in a tote quickly so that the robot can deliver it for packing and shipping.

Interview highlights

  • How innovation is making it possible for robots to improve productivity and throughput in fulfillment operations
  • Four best practices in selecting piece-picking robots
  • Ways that buyers can accelerate the value of piece-picking robots
  • The two most common approaches to piece-picking robots and the differences between them

Today, less than 5% of warehouses and distribution centers use piece-picking robots. Within five years, that will be more than 80%. There will be many companies that will simply go out of business without piece-picking robots.”

Jim Lawton, Vice President and General Manager, Zebra Robotics and Automation

Read the full article on Modern Material Handling here.

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