Gain speed and space with mobile robots

Growth is good for distributors, although it may push the limits of automation in existing distribution centers and support manual processes.

This was the case for Waytek, a distributor of automotive electrical components. The company found itself facing growth challenges in its distribution center systems before implementing a solution based on the flexibility of autonomous mobile robots (AMR).

The company, headquartered in Chanhassen, Minnesota, and founded in 1970, is a family-owned distributor of electrical components for manufacturers and installers specializing in wire harnesses and mobile equipment. With a mission to provide an exceptional customer experience, Waytek is committed to making it easy to source electrical parts for our customers.

By 2007, Waytek had moved into its current 100,000 square foot distribution facility to scale its operations and installed a sorting conveyor system to handle the volumes expected at that time. This conveyor system helped them sort orders up to a capacity of 800 orders per day for 13 years.

With an increase in demand for components in the manufacturing sector combined with a tight labor market, Waytek has found itself in the midst of a difficult period by 2020. Order volumes have rapidly increased due to the growth of the e-commerce and existing customer orders, but the existing warehouse automation technology, which included two separate horizontal carousel systems for storage and order picking, and the conveyor system, was close to reaching his limits.

The conveyor sorting system was designed to sort 800 orders per day. It featured a 200-foot sorting loop that could hold 100 order bins at a time, the limiting factor in maintaining this system at 800 orders per day. The increased capacity would have meant a major overhaul of the existing conveyor, halting operations.

Waytek wanted to keep their carousels and decided to look into putting up walls to sort orders and using AMRs as an alternative to the conveyor to transport orders. This led the company to explore an AMR (Zebra Technologies) solution that could replace the conveyor and automate other tasks, such as carousel replenishment. Now, Zebra’s cloud-based Fetch AMR solution is being used in place of the conveyor, as well as replacing the manual process of having associates bring goods from receiving to carousels for replenishment. AMRs also replaced a manual dunnage removal and recycling process.

“The AMRs deposit incoming goods on the carousels and the order bins from the carousels go to the placement walls to be packed onto the AMRs,” explains mike larson, COO and co-owner of Waytek. “They are able to multi-task while saving floor space.”

Waytek’s AMR fleet was fully installed and operational in three days and consists of three Get CartConnect100 AMR. AMRs can be positioned under rolling mobile carts with shelves called FetchCarts to transport bins or materials.

Currently 32 carts are in the system, a handful of these are used to automate the transport of dunnage and recycling, although most are used to transport order bins to the depot wall or to automatically move goods from reception to depot to the carousels.

CartConnect AMRs are programmed to pick up loaded order carts every 20 minutes, then deliver the payload to the placement wall, then return an empty cart to the carousel.

With just three robots, the AMR solution is able to process up to 25% more orders per day compared to the previous fixed automation, and the level of throughput could be increased in the future by adding more robots.

Another benefit is that removing the old system reclaimed 13% of the distribution center floor space. Other benefits of removing the conveyor included ease of access for employees (they no longer had to walk long distances on the conveyor) and reduced ambient noise.

For receiving associates who previously filled carousels with handcarts or other workers who hauled dunnage, AMRs also eliminate some manual hauling tasks. Using FetchCore software that manages the AMR fleet and missions, Waytek employees can operate the robots with tablets or mobile phones.

Overall, the solution achieves its goals, provides a future way to increase throughput by adding bots, and has proven to be easy to deploy and use, Larson says.

“Of all our technology implementations so far, Fetch was the easiest to deploy and it took us only three days to get up and running with their AMRs,” says Larson. “These AMRs are very easy to use and rarely have downtime. The Fetch team also constantly maintains and updates the bots outside of working hours, so we don’t have to worry about downtime. »

About the Author

Roberto Michel Roberto Michel, editor-in-chief of Modern, has been covering trends in manufacturing and supply chain management since 1996, primarily as a former editor and former contributor to Manufacturing Business Technology. He has been a contributor to Modern since 2004. He has worked on numerous daily newspapers, including ProMat, North American Material Handling Logistics, and National Manufacturing Week. You can reach him at: [email protected]