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New Ideas in D.C. Automation

The search for optimal efficiency in the distribution center continues. In this program, we examine a number of cutting-edge concepts in D.C. automation, including mobility management, robotics and the use of horizontal carousels in retail warehouses.

New Ideas in D.C. Automation

New mobile devices offer significant value throughout the distribution center. Ruggedized tablets and handhelds are providing a real-time interface for information about inventory status and location. In the process, they boost customer service levels while enhancing D.C. worker productivity. Managers, too, benefit, in that they can assert tighter control over facility operations and be in closer contact with workers on the warehouse floor.

Many companies lack the capital to fund major upgrades in their D.C. technology. In such cases, leasing becomes a viable option. Distributors can access the latest devices over three- to five-year lease periods. As for software, the hosted option offers a cost-effective means of running systems without the need for extensive in-house I.T. staff, or complex upgrades on site. The cloud becomes an important enabler of optimized warehouse operations.

Labor shortages are causing D.C.s to take a fresh look at robotics. The automation of certain key tasks allows a facility to supplement the workforce during periods of peak activity. Robots can reach levels of productivity that are not achievable by humans, especially for more mundane and repetitive tasks.

The previous generation of robots focused on machines that were in fixed locations, carrying out such tasks as the palletizing of finished goods. New advances in the technology are allowing for the introduction of mobile units that can handle jobs such as the loading and unloading of trucks. Robots are also playing a growing role in picking, being equipped with perception software that allows them to “see” the items that they are selecting. They can move between the racks and conveyors, eliminating the need for a human interface. The trend has given birth to the term “robot to goods” in the area of order fulfillment.

Other advances in D.C. automation include the use of horizontal carousels for retail distribution, which bring items directly to the human operator, and dynamic batching, which allows for multiple orders to be picked simultaneously, and greatly reduces setup time.

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