E-commerce expectations have increased demand for automation, not just during the holiday rush, but also year-round. Berkshire Grey Inc. today introduced the next generation of its Robotic Product Sortation system for order fulfillment. The Bedford, Mass.-based company said the latest version of BG RPS includes new features such as a dual-wing design that can increase automated picking, sorting, and packing by 25% and double simultaneous order-processing capacity.
Berkshire Grey claimed that its high-capacity system can augment human labor to provide additional order-processing capacity in existing facilities. The RPS can also facilitate “lights-out” warehouse operations for customers looking for full automation in the face of increasing worker shortages, it said. The company updated its sortation system with feedback from existing customers.
“We don't develop products in isolation,” said Kishore Boyalakuntla, vice president of product at Berkshire Grey. “Every one is co-developed with a customer of RPS or RSPS [Robotic Shuttle Product Sortation] and then scaled.”
Robotic Product Sortation designed for high volumes
“The use cases are clear for Robotic Product Sortation, including replenishment at major retailers and distribution centers,” Boyalakuntla told Robotics 24/7. “Increasingly, we're finding that stores are becoming e-commerce hubs. We have customers where online orders come in, and people at the store pick them and put them into boxes. Store aisles are increasingly being used for logistics.”
“Our system includes robotic induction and bi-directional product sortation, with two 60-ft. by 40-ft. limbs,” he explained. “There are 48 slots through which we can do store replenishment. The contents of the totes are scanned, picked, and placed onto a linear shuttle, which can tilt to either side. It's a very dynamic system, continuously filling bins.”
“The RPS arm includes computer vision, sensors, and our SpectrumGripper technology,” said Boyalakuntla. “Most robots really struggle with picking things up. Our customers are happy with the range of SKUs that we can pick with our high-volume airflow system and autonomous tool changer, which sees exceptions in milliseconds and changes grippers as needed.”
“Once bills are filled, orders are kicked out to the conveyor for shipping,” he added. “BG RPS is integrated with the rest of the warehouse.”
Side view of BG RPS showing totes and shuttle. Source: Berkshire Grey
Storage and compatibility
Berkshire Grey said its systems can be used as stand-alone modules, with its other products and cloud-based supply chain software, or integrated with automated storage and retrieval systms (ASRS) from multiple suppliers.
“The proprietary grippers are our hands, the sensors our eyes, and the software is the brains and perception. Our products are all underpinned by a common AI-enabled software platform,” said Boyalakuntla. “Whenever a robot comes into a warehouse, we need to optimize both upstream and downstream.”
“When we install systems, we work with the customers and the ASRS vendors, since robots can't pick up everything,” he said. “In some cases, they'll even change ASRS software to match our efficiencies, and we've increased storage efficiency by more than 30%.”
“We own the whole implementation—we use our own people and also include the software and conveyor integration,” Boyalakuntla said. “We partner with customers' APIs [application programming interfaces]. If anything goes wrong with the warehouse management system [WMS] or warehouse execution system [WES], we're responsible.”
Overhead view of BG RPS pick cell. Source: Berkshire Grey
Change management and RaaS
One of the biggest challenges for fulfillment center operators is change management, Boyalakuntla acknowledged. “A warehouse is like a plane in flight,” he said. “With e-commerce all year, it can't stop operations to put in a system.”
Berkshire Grey claimed that the modular design of its RPS allows enterprises to scale the number of orders fulfilled simultaneously into the thousands and the number of items robotically picked per week into the millions.
“Many customers have five to 10 systems in parallel,” said Boyalakuntla. “The way we implement is modular and flexible—sometimes all at once or a few lines in phases.”
Berkshire Grey said its systems are available through a robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model, allowing customers to adopt automation without upfront capital expenditures.
“If someone buys upfront, that includes an annual subscription for service, and in other cases, we provide support through RaaS,” Boyalakuntla said. “Our system was designed with ease of use in mind.”
Robotic arm picking as part of Robotic Product Sortation system. Source: Berkshire Grey
Berkshire Grey touts BG RPS benefits
BG RPS is currently deployed at multiple Fortune 100 retailers, said Berkshire Grey. The company said it can also process less-than-case order volumes and can handle apparel, electronics, housewares, packaged food, childcare products, office supplies, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and other general merchandise items.
Berkshire Grey said its system enables enable retailers and e-commerce providers to do the following things:
- Increase throughput of existing fulfillment operations by up to 2X without adding labor
- Improve shipment capacity and container cube utilization by up to 10%
- Integrate order processing with ASRS to maximize the return on investment (ROI)
- Scale processing in an orchestrated fashion across multiple BG RPS systems
- Operate with maximum flexibility by combining and coordinating BG RPS processing with operator-inducted RSPS systems
- Install into existing operations with a small footprint of less than 2,500 sq. ft.
- Support configurable order container sizes and batches
Berkshire Grey said BG RPS is part of its portfolio of robotics pick-and-sort systems, including Robotic Package Sortation and Identification, Robotic Shuttle Put Walls, Robotic Shuttle Product Sortation, and Mobile Robotic Sortation.
Automation as workforce augmentation
“Test users were able to add a third shift during the COVID-19 pandemic without worrying about social distancing,” said Boyalakuntla. “We're incredibly happy that people in warehouses can transition to being robotics experts. People who were doing repetitive replenishment can now turn on the robots and handle exceptions.”
“We've had no issues so far with performance,” he said. “We've had 10 million picks so far, which is a testament to the team updating BG RPS.”
“RPS is a proven solution that addresses some of the most labor-intensive processes our customers face in their fulfillment operations,” said Tom Wagner, CEO of Berkshire Grey.
About the Author
Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of Robotics 24/7. Prior to joining Peerless Media, he was a senior editor at Robotics Business Review and The Robot Report. Demaitre has also worked for BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, and TechTarget. He has participated in numerous robotics-related webinars, podcasts, and events worldwide.
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