Operating at the forefront of modern warehousing technologies, Swisslog is ushering in a robotics revolution in the logistics field that is improving accuracy while saving time and money
The warehouse of the future will be a place of precision engineering where human involvement is minimal, and robots and automated technologies come together to provide an error-free environment in which goods are received, sorted, stacked, retrieved and dispatched with an accuracy that is beyond manual possibilities. And with Arau-, Switzerland, headquartered Swisslog, that future is now.
“Managing energy efficiency and small order fulfilment are two of the greatest challenges facing modern logistics operations, according to our research,” says Alain Kadoum, general manager for the Middle East at Swisslog. “As a leader in robotic, data driven and flexible automated solutions, these are what we have put our minds to and come up with solutions. Swisslog is dedicated to helping companies improve the efficiency, productivity and cost effectiveness of their intralogistics operations.”
Intralogistics is evolving from large, rigid systems into modular, flexible, and software-driven solutions, Kadoum tells CMME. “The future is robot-supported and self-optimising. And Swisslog is at the forefront of these Industry 4.0 initiatives, providing innovative solutions for the retail/e-Commerce, pharmaceutical, food & beverage and automotive industries.”
Recent whitepapers from Swisslog have addressed the challenges facing fulfillment operations in the rapidly growing e-commerce industry. Kadoum reveals the company’s findings are that an omni-channel or dedicated e-commerce fulfillment centre utilising a streamlined, highly-efficient automated goods-to-person solution can expect to see a doubling or tripling in picking activity over conventional manual picking methods.
“Providing extensive knowledge and insight into the options available to distribution centres facing the challenge of small order fulfillment, our latest innovation, AutoPiQ, enables direct cooperation between pickers and robots. When networked with automated goods-to-person warehouse systems, such as CycloneCarrier, AutoStore or CarryPick, AutoPiQ is able to assist human workers with picking tasks, permitting workers to focus more on value-added services,” Kadoum explains.
While automation has offered endless benefits to operations around the globe, some users are concerned with the increased energy demands required to run the systems. Kadoum says that Swisslog’s research has addressed these concerns by looking at how businesses can benefit from automation while remaining energy efficient.
“The most efficient shuttle and robotics systems have been engineered to reduce carrier weight and optimise weight/payload ratios for lessened energy requirements,” Kadoum says. “Since these systems provide dense storage capacity, they are also ideal for minimising refrigeration energy costs, when compared to manual small quantity picking in traditional refrigerated warehouses.”
Another automated warehousing innovation from Swisslog is PowerStore – a compact storage system for pallets. The compact system supports storage depth up to 20x and beyond per channel within a rack design. This rack design can have 10 or more levels and adapts to virtually any building topography, accommodating existing support walls as well as multi-level and barrel roofs.
“PowerStore utilises virtually every square metre,” confirms Kadoum. He adds that the system is already popular in the US at places such as Pepsi Bottling Ventures (PBV), a major US manufacturer, seller and distributor of PepsiCo beverages. PowerStore has the potential to increase storage capacity by as much as 60%, he adds. The system is being rolled out now in Europe and will soon be extended to other parts of the world.
Explaining its working, Kadoum adds: “Row and aisle carriers are used for pallet storage and retrieval. Vertical conveyors allow these carriers to be used on any rack level. At PBV, PowerStore’s high dynamics support 580 pallet operations (storage and retrieval) per hour.”
PowerStore is part of Swisslog’s technology offerings that meet the requirements of Industry 4.0. It displays great flexibility when used across industries and can be deployed in diverse environments including deep-freezes with temperatures as low as -30°C, Kadoum points out.
Underpinning the PowerStore system is Swisslog’s in-house warehouse management software platform – SynQ. Explaining the platform, Kadoum says its name is a shortened version of synchronised intelligence, and it was designed to be a flexible and adaptable cloud-enabled software that intelligently connects and synchronises automation equipment, robotics, people and processes. The software’s ability to adapt to future technology will see users benefit from a future-proof operation, where additional functionality can be securely added, helping businesses capitalize on the opportunities emerging as Industry 4.0 evolves.
“SynQ provides the software platform that future hardware will rely on,” Kadoum says. “To get the most out of automation and robotics we are increasingly reliant on data and interconnectivity. It’s what is driving Industry 4.0 forward and allows users to deliver on promises to customers in the smartest way possible.”
SynQ not only encompasses warehouse management, material flow and automation control systems functionality, it also provides an array of business intelligence tools that allow smart forecasting through real-time data analysis, in a modular platform.
“SynQ functionality, services and crucial supporting processes are organised around three pillars: Collaboration Platform, Operational Services and Intelligence Services,” explains Kadoum. “Collaboration Platform modules provide continuity no matter the level of automation the business has installed, while Operational Services deliver industry-standard processes and high-speed automation for maximum performance. Finally, Intelligent Services allow smart growth in a dynamically changing market.”
An important Swisslog customer in the GCC region that is reaping the rewards of SynQ is Dubai-based bottled water company Mai Dubai. The company’s warehouse on the outskirts of the city already runs the system to track incoming inventory, order logging and dispatch.
Speaking about the system’s performance, Jay Andres, CEO, Mai Dubai, says: “SynQ enables us to add a huge measure of efficiency to our operations, even when we are using a relatively basic warehousing system. The best thing about the system is that it is ready for upward integration with future system. We are installing a fully-automated warehousing system from Swisslog, which will become operational in a few months, and SynQ is already able to handle the new system.
“Some people ask me the reason behind the price of bottled drinking water staying the same for more than a decade, despite the all-round inflation in the market. My answer is ‘superior logistics’, helped by companies such as Swisslog.”
AutoPiQ: Robots to the rescue
Swisslog’s AutoPiQ solution is designed for repeated single item picks to fulfil fast delivery of orders. It perfectly suits the requirements of e-commerce, pharmaceutical or spare parts logistic and effectively combines Swisslog’s existing intralogistics concepts such as CycloneCarrier or AutoStore with robot picking technology.
The solution design is based on a shared picking principle: the robot picks the items that he is able to pick – which can be up to 95% of the customers’ product range – and a worker finishes the order. Both can pick into the same bin or split orders into two lines depending on requirements.
The core of the solution is the portable robot cell (ItemPiQ). The cell is based on the shared picking principle between a human worker and the robot. Thanks to the ‘LBR iiwa’ robot developed by Swisslog’s parent company KUKA, and its sensitive properties, humans and robots can work side by side. To enable high performance the robot is mainly working in fast speed mode. Once a human enters the safety zone, it automatically switches into human robot cooperation mode for simplified error handling.
Able to handle from 360 to 600 items per hour, depending on size and weight, the system can operate with item sizes that range in dimensions from 40x40x10mm up to 300x200x200mm in length, width and breadth respectively.
Among the advantages of the system are its mobility and flexibility to be used at different work stations, its fast and simple integration with existing systems due to SynQ standard software packages, improved efficiency with 24×7 operations, and the accuracy and safety of automated robotics.