Extreme Picking & Packing

This week Vince & Allison take us on a tour of a high-speed warehouse that features packing machines operating at ground speeds of over 70 mph. Imagine how fast you could pack for your trip to Vegas, baby.

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Today's warehouses have to be way more efficient. New retail and manufacturing buildings just don't have the space to store extra stuff. Instead, they are using just-in-time inventory practices. These sound good in theory, but we all know that a process can hit a bottleneck when people are involved. That is why in warehouse operations, the latest systems use automated picking cars, something like a robot taxi driver.

The great thing about these "robot taxis", or pickers, is that they won't take a roundabout route to increase the fare on the meter. Instead, they are programmed to optimize distance, and therefore minimize the time required to pick and organize items. We spoke with Roberto Dolci at System Logistics, a company that designs and manufactures automated storage, picking, and supply chain solutions. He says that these cars are controlled by optical laser positioning and can travel up to 32 meters per second along the ground and can elevate to pick product at heights of 32 meter.

Besides increased productivity and speed, these systems allow system designers to make warehouses bigger than ever. That means warehouses can store more inventory because the automated systems can travel, pick, and organize items so quickly. And these auto-pickers can load all sorts of items on the same palette. That means the store only has to off-load one truck and they receive exactly the quantity they need of each item, so they don't have to keep much inventory on hand.

Let's not forget how quickly the product gets out the door. Several companies, including Coca-Cola, Corona, and L.L. Bean employ the technology to expedite shipment. At one of Coca-Cola's facilities, 1 million truck loads per year are processed, which equates to a truck being loaded every one and a half minutes.

As you can imagine for such complex systems, there are numerous design challenges. Supporting a weight, such as a palette, at greater heights increases the chances of failure by buckling. Also, acceleration and deceleration forces, or G-forces have to be considered when designing and specifying the picking car platforms and bearings.