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A Look at Shuttle Goods to Person Automation 

A Look at Multishuttle Goods to Person Automation

Canadian Grocer Blog Entry: June 12, 2013 (here)

The emergence of goods to person (GTP) automation technology for high volume distribution centers presents some exciting opportunities for Grocery distributors.  These technologies are designed to automatically store and retrieve merchandise within a dedicated zone in the distribution center.  This effectively eliminates putaway and replenishment work and also significantly improves the productivity for order selection.  The technology choices vary as do the range of suppliers.  This  discussion provides a basic primer for an interesting application called Dematic Multishuttle.

Dematic Multishuttle

Dematic is not the only company that provides solutions designed with the shuttle concept but they have a strong solution offering that is widely deployed.  At receiving, goods are checked in and then removed from vendor cartons and placed into totes.  It is also possible to use this technology to handle full cases. The totes/cases/trays (i.e. unit loads) are transferred via conveyor into a storage buffer which is basically a selective rack system to store non-palletized merchandise.  Unit loads are randomly stored across all storage levels and operating aisles within the storage buffer through the use of vertical lifts at both ends of the buffer.  The operating aisles within the buffer are the width of the shuttle vehicle since the shuttle carriers travel back and forth within an aisle-level to store and retrieve unit loads. 

A typical system has a multishuttle carrier working on each vertical  level within each operating aisle within the storage buffer.  Having said this, a system can be designed so that more than one shuttle carrier works within a level for faster velocity environments.  Conversely, a system can be designed so that carriers roam the system across multiple levels or aisles for slower velocity environments.  This flexibility is one of the strengths of this technology.Multishuttle Carrier With Tote

Unit loads are transported within the central belly  of the shuttle carrier.  Carriers are equipped with extractor arms that "reach" into storage locations to put or pull unit loads.  The carrier is similar to a go-cart with two arms.  The vehicles are powered by busbars installed along the travel rails affixed to the racks hence no batteries need to be recharged which is an excellent system feature.  Goods are horizontally transferred to vertical lifts at the end of the storage buffer.  Product is then transferred to ergonomically-designed stationary work stations where operators pick one or more orders.  Pick rates generally start at 400 order lines per hour and can go higher depending on the number of concurrent orders being selected.  Once the tote is selected, it is automatically transferred back into the storage buffer.

There are companies using this technology to ship 50,000 - 100,000 orders per day and indeed this is the sweet spot for this type of solution.  What makes this technology appealing is its ability to support very fast order turnaround times for industries where this is a critical requirement.

It is interesting to see where this technology is being deployed:

  1. Manufacturers are storing products into the shuttle system prior to shipping as a means to provide faster order turnaround time thus enabling extended order cutoff times for better customer service. 
  2. Retailers handling high volumes of split case merchandise with the goals to maximize labor productivity and accuracy; and to ensure that the heaviest totes are always sequenced to be at the bottom of the pallet.
  3. Distributors seeking to maximize space utilization, efficiency and order fill rates.
  4. Companies seeking a high security storage environment for products that are of high value or are highly secure (e.g. pharmaceuticals).
  5. Companies that are dealing with high SKU proliferation and/or high growth rates where there is  a need for system scalability since these solutions can easily be expanded in height, length or width.

A more in depth and unbiased review of the Dematic Multishuttle 2 system can be found here.

Marc Wulfraat is the President of MWPVL International Inc.  He can be reached by clicking hereMWPVL International provides supply chain / logistics network strategy consulting services. Our services include: supply chain network strategy; distribution center design; material handling and automation design;  supply chain technology consulting; product sourcing; 3PL Outsourcing; and purchasing; transportation consulting; and operational assessments.

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