The Automation Makes All the Difference

By Gary Forger 

In some ways, there’s not a lot of difference between Perfect Pick® from OPEX® and mini-load automated storage and retrieval systems from other major automated material handling suppliers. Until you get to the automation, that is. And that makes all the difference. 

To begin, all are goods-to-person systems for order fulfillment. Items stored in totes sit in a horizontal and vertical grid of fixed rack storage locations arranged in long aisles and various heights. The specs of systems (height, length, location dimensions) are easily customized, but general layouts are essentially the same. Both types of storage/retrieval systems use automated vehicles to bring totes to a forward location for manual item picking. Totes are later returned to their storage location. As you are about to see, all automated vehicles are not created equal.   

For starters, each of the vehicles go by different names. For Perfect Pick, the storage/retrieval vehicle is called an iBOT.  AS/RS suppliers call theirs a shuttle. Quite simply, an iBOT has a much faster tote presentation rate to pickers compared to most traditional shuttle technologies which rely on multiple transfers using elevators and conveyors. The iBOT is an automated, self-charging, wireless delivery vehicle. And “BOT” really is the right word here. Think mobile robot on tracks that operates as an autonomous vehicle receiving activity instructions from the Perfect Pick software. “Retrieve the tote in location C-10,” for instance. After that, the iBOT, guided by a central controller, travels both horizontally and vertically in a central aisle to the designated location and then directly to a pick station for immediate picking. 

Furthermore, most AS/RS confine a shuttle to one level of the system. Typically, they move only horizontally. To move a tote vertically, shuttles deliver it to a vertical conveyor that then travels to a drop off location in a buffer system. When a picker is available, the tote is retrieved from the buffer by yet another vehicle for picking. Just reverse the flow to get the tote back to its storage location. By now, it’s pretty easy to see how much more complicated a shuttle system is in comparison to a system running iBOTs. Not only does an iBOT have the full range of motion in a Perfect Pick, but it also delivers totes directly to their destination (picking or storage). That’s much simpler than any shuttle’s complicated machinations to move totes to any destination. Perfect Pick’s more direct and faster tote presentation rate to pickers beats shuttles hands down. That’s a powerful operational advantage.

There’s also the matter of inventory security and storage density. Every time inventory is moved outside of the system, you risk the possibility that something bad could happen. Perfect Pick is self- contained, therefore inventory never leaves the system until it is presented to a picker for fulfillment. That should help you sleep better at night.  Additionally, Perfect Pick HD has nearly 40% more storage density than other similarly sized shuttle systems. The power of the iBOT is why Perfect Pick is so well suited to small-footprint, high-volume, e-commerce order fulfillment. That’s in direct contrast to traditional AS/RS that requires extensive real estate with very large amounts of inventory to keep pace with order volume. That’s a striking difference. Believe in the power of the iBOT. 

Next week we’re going to take a look at how bots outside of Perfect Pick can also have a very positive impact on your operations. 

Gary Forger is the former editor of Modern Materials Handling magazine and the Material Handling & Logistics U.S. Roadmap to 2030.  

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