The report, written by Supply Chain Digest Materials Handling Editor Cliff Holste (who has more than 30 years direct experience in the distribution and materials handling industries), is available at no charge on the Supply Chain Digest web site: Automated Case Picking 2009 - The Next Frontier in Distribution Center Management .
The report was based on survey data from over 200 logistics managers, detailed one-on-one interviews with many logistics managers and executives, and extensive research on the broad spectrum of available ACP solutions.
For many companies, case picking volumes, costs, and challenges have increased over the past decade due to customer and order profile changes. The need to reduce case picking costs and increase throughput have been the major drivers of investment in materials handling systems in the DC for more than two decades, usually in the form of batch “pick-to-belt” systems with downstream case or carton sortation.
More fully automating the case picking process has been something of a Holy Grail for distribution managers and materials handling vendors alike. In fact, according to the survey data detailed in the report, 40% of total respondents expressed Very High or Fairly High interest in automated case picking solutions. For companies with DCs doing 20,000 to 40,000 full case picks per day (at peak periods), that number jumps to 57%, and to a remarkable 76% for DCs doing more than 40,000 full case picks per day.
To meet that need and interest, many materials handling vendors have lately stepped up their R&D efforts, many working directly with customers to co-develop solutions. Together, these efforts are combining to create a new class of materials handling solutions, which we call Automated Case Picking, or ACP.
These solutions run from truly automated to semi-automated, and often approach the problem in very new ways than materials handling solutions of the past.
The report features a comprehensive categorization of this new case picking solution landscape for the first time. Existing solutions range from big improvements in some existing solution categories to mobile robots, stationary robots that are much more flexible and smart than in the past, systems that dispense cases like vending machines onto conveyors, high-speed gantry cranes that rapidly build pallets, a new approach to mini-load AS/RS that increases throughput and lowers cost, and more.
“Adoption of this technology won’t be for everyone, and won’t come on overnight, but there is a lot more happening in the ACP area right now than I think most people realize,” Hoste says.
In the US, the epicenter of ACP activity is in the beverage sector, with the food industry not far behind. There are a number of deployments or pilots on-going, and even more activity and deployments in Europe of ACP technologies.