Picking is one the most costly parts of a distribution operation. There are various technologies available to make pickers more efficient in a manual picking environment such as RF scanning and Voice directed picking and these technologies have made the picking process much more efficient and accurate but the fact remains that in most warehouse operations a picker does not spend as much of his time actually picking as you think he does. Recent studies have shown that pickers only spend around 40% to 45% of their time picking, the larger part of their time is spent collecting assignments, picking up an empty pallet, driving to the first location, getting on and off the truck at each location, verifying that he is picking the correct product, delivering full pallets to the shrink wrapper, etc., etc. You only have to watch a picker in your own warehouse to verify this. Apart from the non-value-added effort and cost, each of these other tasks is a risk for damage to product and equipment.
Previously all efforts have been directed at making picking more efficient, shouldn’t we be also concentrating on increasing the time he spends picking and reducing the picker’s non-picking activities? What if you could leave the picker in the picking aisle to focus on picking? We can do this by combining two technologies; voice directed picking and laser-guided trucks – LaserTrucks+® by Dematic – Delivering improved productivity, safety and operational transparency while retaining ultimate logistics flexibility.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) have been around for decades and in the early days trundled around the warehouse on a pre-set route guided by wires or tape within the floor. Nowadays standard lift trucks can be fitted with their own automation to enable them to be operated without a driver. They are fitted with safety sensors to protect the warehouse infrastructure and human workforce and they are equipped with laser guidance systems which means they can operate anywhere within the warehouse. By automating the manual truck and freeing up the operator for more picking, Laser Trucks+ deliver benefits in productivity, safety and operational visibility while retaining maximum flexibility in new and existing operations.
By integrating Laser Trucks+ with Voice picking, we can double the productivity of the picker who will now be picking for more than 70% of his time. The solution eliminates many of the non-value added tasks. Laser Trucks+ automatically retrieves new shipping pallets and delivers them to the picker, and takes away completed pallets to despatch while another truck brings a new pallet. The picker remains in the aisle to continue picking. Within the pick aisle, LaserTrucks+ automatically moves with the picker to locations. On confirmation of a pick the truck moves automatically to the next location. Initially you’d think that if the picker is walking behind the truck instead of driving it the pick would be less efficient – not so, on a fairly condensed picking assignment the picker will be getting on and off the truck for almost every pick and will have to walk around the pallet/cages each time. With LaserTrucks+ he walks far less. As soon as the picker has verbally confirmed that he has completed the pick in this location the truck moves off to the next location with the picker following close behind. The picker can also verbally command the truck to raise or lower the forks so that he is always placing his picks onto the pallet/cage at the optimal height. The picker will assume he is talking to the truck but in effect he is talking to the WMS or WCS which is directing automated truck movements.
During peak periods, pickers with manual pallet trucks can work in conjunction with Laser Trucks+ to take up the additional throughput. As operational requirements change, additional Laser Trucks+ can be added, and even transferred between sites.
Improved Warehouse Safety
Each truck is equipped with safety sensors controlling its operation. When Laser Trucks+ come into close proximity with other trucks, personnel or any part of the building or racking structure then the truck speed is reduced or stopped to avoid contact. Personnel injury, product damage and structural damage are eliminated. Speeding of trucks, taking short cuts and misuse are a thing of the past.
Because Laser Trucks+ are guided so safely they are less likely to get damaged in collisions with infrastructure and other vehicles. The drivers of manually driven trucks are also aware that a laser-guided truck approaching from the side will always give way to them. The result is big savings from less vehicle and infrastructure damage.
When trucks are driven automatically they are driven at optimum speeds for the current conditions. They do not accelerate and corner at speed. This ensures that Laser Trucks+ last much longer and that a trucks residual value is much higher at the end of its lease period.
Because the trucks are always driven at the optimum pace for the prevailing conditions they use less energy than when driven manually. This results in longer periods between charging. When LaserTrucks+ require charging they can take themselves directly to the charging area.
Reducing costs, increasing throughputs and maximising space utilisation are key factors in most warehouse operations. Laser trucks+ are specifically designed to reduce the non productive, costly elements within warehouse operations.
All Laser Trucks+ retain ultimate flexibility with full manual controls. Simply move the control handle or wheel and the truck automatically reverts to manual control. The Trucks only return to laser control on confirmation by operative.
Manual Trucks Monitoring
Within a Laser trucks+ enabled facility simple laser technology can be added to the manual truck fleet, thereby giving an operational window based on real-time task and position to further improve resource productivity via the combined WMS/WCS entity.
LaserTrucks can also be used for unmanned tramming missions to carry out the mundane A to B transportation of picked pallets to the stretch-wrapper or marshalling area, they can also be used for putaway and replenishment. The benefits are clear in this scenario, the truck is content to work 24 x 7 and no driver is required. LaserTrucks can carry out complex missions though and are not restricted to A to B routes as they were in the old AGV days.
Although Voice picking and guided vehicles have both been around for a long time the combination of the two – LaserTrucks+ is still an emerging technology in the early adopter stage so it cannot yet be seen on many sites, and is still not cheap although the solution can deliver a payback in around 18 months. However, Dematic have partnered with Toyota BT to bring a live demonstration of LaserTrucks+ to the forthcoming IHMX show at the Birmingham NEC. The demonstration features one of Toyota BT’s laser guided trucks performing voice picking assignments and unmanned replenishment assignments regularly throughout the four days of the show.
Tel: 01295 274600