How to Implement an Automated Picking System

Posted on 27/04/2022 by EmilyNewton in Industry

An automated picking system can be the key to vaulting businesses into the future, boosting efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction. Order picking robots have become highly popular over recent years, especially as demand for rapid shipping increases. These robots offer a great return on investment in a well-designed automated picking system. Businesses have to consider many factors when investing in order picking robots, from the physical workspace to the type of robots and technology used. 

Designing an Automated Picking System

Automated picking systems are highly customizable. A well-designed system will also be easy to scale as a business grows and expands. Before diving into the order picking robot selection process, businesses need to take a few things into consideration. 

For example, any automated picking system will inevitably be limited by the physical space it is in. A warehouse’s aisles can only be so big and some spaces may have limited opportunities to rearrange the layout of different areas. So, some picking systems may work better in certain warehouses than others will. 

Similarly, the types of orders being processed will also impact a business’s choice of picking method. It is important to consider whether or not the robots will be working alongside human employees. This may require more space or safety dividers compared to a fully automated order processing facility. 

Picking Systems for Automation

Once a business has a thorough understanding of any factors that could limit the size or scale of automation, they’ll need to choose a picking system. There are several main picking systems, all of which can technically be automated. A few lend themselves better to automated picking than others do, though. 

Batch picking, cluster picking, and zone picking may be good options for automated picking systems. Batch picking is good for facilities that process small, similar orders since a robot could pick multiple items with the same SKU at once. This reduces travel time for the order picking robots. Similarly, cluster picking allows the robots to pick multiple orders at once by sorting orders into separate containers. Like batch picking, cluster picking streamlines the robot’s route around the picking facility. Zone picking can be a good option for facilities where robots and humans are both picking orders. This picking system keeps robots confined to one “zone” where they are picking orders separate from other order pickers. 

Choosing the Right Order Picking Robots

With a picking system selected, businesses can move on to choosing robots that fit that order picking profile well. In fact, they may already have a certain type of robot in mind during the picking system selection process. Most businesses that use automated order picking use a combination of different robots to get the job done. They might have robot arms that pack boxes while mobile order picking robots roam the shelves to retrieve items. 


Types of Order Picking Robots

There are several different types of warehouse automation robots that have become popular today. Each is specifically designed to meet unique needs in automated warehouse system, including order picking. The most common types of order picking robots are heavy burden carriers, autonomous guided carts, and automated storage and retrieval robots. 

Autonomous mobile robots come in many sizes and varieties, as well. Heavy burden carriers are a specific type of autonomous mobile robot designed to handle heavy items. Rack carriers are AMRs that transport entire shelving units around facilities. These order picking robots are great for collaborative robotics settings, where robots and people work together. 

Some order pickers can even reach nearly 400 feet high. Roaming shuttle robots can pick orders in high-density storage settings, which makes them a great option for businesses that want to maximize storage efficiency. 

Automated Picking Technologies

Mobile order picking robots need some way to identify items and navigate around facilities. The navigation system a business uses for its automated picking system will determine any changes that need to be made to accommodate the robots. 

The specific navigation technology used varies from one application to another. For example, an autonomous mobile order picking robot is designed to roam freely around a facility for maximum range and flexibility. This type of robot would do best with a sensor-based navigation system like LiDAR or a vision-based system like barcodes, QR codes, or RFID tags. Many leading order picking robot adopters and developers today use a combination of sensors and cameras for mobile robots. 

In contrast, a large autonomous crane for picking heavy items would be better suited to a rail system that keeps it confined to a safe travel area. Some large robots do need physical rails, but others may be able to use more convenient magnetic tape rails instead. The magnetic tape is applied to floors along robots’ routes, creating a magnetic fields to guide them.

Operation and Optimization

An important part of an automated picking system is logistics. Controlling and managing dozens of robots, often alongside dozens or even hundreds of employees, is highly complex. Businesses can benefit from using technology to simplify, streamline, and optimize automated picking system logistics. This will maximize the effectiveness of order picking robots. 

One great way to optimize autonomous order picking is with logistics modeling and simulation software. These programs allow businesses to visualize logistics, test new ideas, and fine-tune operations. Since the program is a simulation, logistics plans can be tested without negatively impacting real-world operations. 

Logistics modeling simulations can be especially useful in supply chain settings like order picking, where they can help identify and resolve bottlenecks. These congested areas of an automated picking system would otherwise throttle performance, but logistics modeling can help businesses keep things running smoothly. 

Technologies like the Internet of Things can help businesses easily keep track of their fleet of order picking robots. IoT sensors are great for monitoring robots and collecting performance data. This data is invaluable for identifying opportunities for optimization. It also allows businesses to keep up with robot maintenance, a crucial part of running an automated picking system. The IoT sensors can detect when a robot’s performance is declining, hinting at potential maintenance needs. 

Robotic Automated Picking Systems

Automated picking systems are the future of warehousing and order fulfillment. With the help of order picking robots, businesses can deliver high speed, high quality service to their customers. Automated picking systems can allow businesses to make the most of their warehouse space, as well, whether with rack carrier robots or compact automated forklifts. Even employees can benefit from order picking robots, which reduce heavy lifting and walking time required on the job. Robotic automated picking systems are the key to innovating order picking for a new era of service and efficiency. 


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