What’s New in Supply Chain News That You Need to Know About?

Posted by Sean Murphy on March 4, 2019

Distribution facilities want to automate "piece picking." This process involves robots selecting specific items and placing them in boxes rather than selecting an entire case. Why hasn't it happened by now? Because it's an expensive part of the order fulfillment process and it has a couple of challenges.

The Challenges of Automation Piece-Picking Technology

Despite the cost, it doesn't stop companies and start-ups from trying to achieve what feels like the impossible. What makes automated piece picking challenging is the gripping process. Certain pieces require a different type of gripper than others. Some companies are experimenting with suction instead of finger-like pickers.

Piece-picking robots use a combination of software and hardware to speed up picking and placement. In turn, this reduces order fulfillment and warehouse operations costs. This type of automation shines when used with goods-to-picker workflows like ASRS. Piece-picking supply chain technology success depends on three things: range, speed, and accuracy.

Range represents the variety of items. An e-commerce store sells hundreds of thousands of items. The picker needs to know what it's picking and be able to actually pick it up. Any item could come down the line. There's no predicting what's coming.

The next part of the technology formula is speed, which affects accuracy. A robot could pick 1,000 items in an hour. However, if the accuracy is 95 percent, that means nine customers may receive incorrect items. Nine may seem small, but it really isn't. If those customers complain, especially publicly, it could affect the company's reputation. So, the biggest challenge is getting the supply chain technology to quickly pick the right items out of many, many possibilities.

How the Automation Piece-Picking Problem Got Solved

It turns out the University of California at Berkeley engineers may have found a different solution altogether. Most automated robots in distribution centers tend to have one arm. The engineers at UC Berkeley have created a two-armed ambidextrous robot.

Each arm contains a different type of gripper. This way, one arm takes care of picking things that require suction. However, it won't work on porous items like clothing. Enter the other arm with its parallel-jaw gripper to take care of those.

Manufacturing Automation reports that RightHand Robotics set a world record with their piece-picking robot that successfully picked and placed more than 130,000 items — 1,000 units per hour — at the supply chain tradeshow.

Clearly, automation piece-picking is becoming a reality that will transform warehousing and distribution.

Investing in Supply Chain Technology

While this supply chain technology isn't widely available yet, it's looking like things might soon be changing. The companies that incorporate it into their distribution and warehousing processes will boost efficiency and lower operating costs. Yes, the technology will be a large investment, but it clearly will get an ROI once you factor in all the costs and the savings.

The same goes for security technology that protects your assets. Distribution centers contain a lot of expensive equipment and thousands of products that thieves will target.

An experienced remote surveillance and security technology company can review your requirements and design a solution that fits. It won't include more than you need, and it'll ensure a quick ROI. If you'd like to learn more about distribution and logistics security solutions, please contact us.

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