As order volumes increase, labor pools get more competitive, and customer expectations continue to rise, new automation is emerging to help warehouses and distribution centers. Zebra Technologies Corp. today introduced a picking system to improve fulfillment operations. It includes three new mobile robots—FlexShelf, FlexShelf Guide, and RollerTop Guide—as well as a new FetchCore software package for order or batch picking.
The Lincolnshire, Ill.-based company said these new offerings extend its position as a leader in automating and digitizing critical workflows. Zebra serves industries including retail and e-commerce, transportation and logistics, and healthcare. It provides inventory, supply chain, and patient care technologies and has more than 10,000 partners across 100 countries.
In July, Zebra announced that it would acquire autonomous mobile robot (AMR) and software provider Fetch Robotics Inc. for $290 million.
Worker augmentation key to robot adoption
According to Zebra’s Warehousing Vision Study, 77% of respondents agreed that augmenting workers with technology is the best way to introduce automation in the warehouse. Given increasing consumer expectations driven by the on-demand economy along with a limited workforce, automated processes can help streamline tasks, create happier and more efficient workers, and help businesses stay competitive in a dynamic marketplace.
“AMRs that support manual picking operations in fulfillment centers are in incredibly high demand, as retailers and 3PLs [third-party logistics providers] struggle to keep up with their customers’ demands,” said Ash Sharma, senior research director at Interact Analysis. “Fetch Robotics, now part of Zebra Technologies, has responded to this demand by developing an integrated fulfillment solution.”
“Retailers and 3PLs can now not only streamline each picking operations, but [they can also] leverage the entire portfolio of Fetch AMRs to automate any manual workflow in fulfillment and distribution centers,” he added.
Zebra said the new offerings can help businesses modernize their warehouse operations with improved accuracy, productivity, and worker safety—from inbound operations to outbound fulfillment.
Three AMRs offer higher throughput
Built on the Fetch Freight100 platform, the FlexShelf, FlexShelf Guide, and RollerTop Guide robots are faster, more accurate, and safer than industry alternatives, claimed Zebra Technologies. The AMRs can operate 50% faster than other fulfillment systems, the company added.
The three robots expand upon Fetch’s existing case-picking capabilities while providing several advantages over existing each-picking AMRs in the market, Zebra said. It said Fetch AMRs can triple productivity in fulfillment operations and increase total throughput in a facility.
The FlexShelf and FlexShelf Guide are designed to provide flexible configurations for bin sizing and spacing, expanding the types of items that can be picked using AMRs.
Both AMRs can reduce worker training time and increase picking accuracy by incorporating put-to-light and pick-side lighting, said Zebra. This is a critical element during seasonal peak periods, when order volumes and seasonal staffing are at their highest levels.
Attracting and retaining staffers is easier because the systems can reduce the amount of time pickers spend walking by up to 60%, the company said. The AMRs also comply with the ANSI RIA R15.08 safety standard.
In addition, an industry-first forklift detection feature enables the robots to avoid forklift blind spots, helping prevent damage to the AMRs, Zebra said.
Businesses deploying the RollerTop Guide AMR can integrate each-picking workflows with existing fixed conveyance, sortation, and automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), said the company.
Zebra enhances FetchCore software
The FetchCore enterprise cloud software enables companies to quickly modify workflows on demand for warehouse operations. It can dynamically orchestrate labor and robots by integrating with leading warehouse management systems (WMS) and warehouse execution systems (WES) to optimize order, batch, and pallet picking workflows.
Zebra said it has enhanced FetchCore to automate each and case picking workflows while maintaining support for material transport operations for wholesalers, 3PLs, and retailers.
The fulfillment software package incorporates warehouse annotation, wave management, a pick heatmap, advanced fulfillment analytics, and forklift-detection features.
The warehouse annotation feature superimposes the physical pick locations in a facility logically into FetchCore, eliminating the need for QR codes. It also allows AMRs to automatically adjust to reslotting within a warehouse, said Zebra.
“Zebra’s fulfillment solution enables Manhattan Associates to combine an end-to-end, best-in-class fulfillment AMR solution with optimization capabilities inherent to our WMS software,” said Jon Liberman, vice president of enterprise mobility at Manhattan Associates, a PartnerConnect premier solutions partner. “We are excited to provide a solution that increases the efficiency of each picking and case pick to pallet operations, especially while many of our customers are experiencing challenges with a competitive labor pool, supply shortages, and smaller delivery windows.”