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Innovative logistics processes and swarm-intelligent vehicles: The WITRON EMP increases warehouse productivity considerably

With the new development “Efficient Mobile Picking (EMP)”, WITRON sets new standards in the “person-to-goods” picking process

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Parkstein, Germany. The latest innovation from WITRON Logistik + Informatik GmbH is proof that maximum cost-efficiency, optimal ergonomics, and maximum picking quality are not contradictory in warehouse logistics. With the Efficient Mobile Picking system (EMP), the general contractor offers a holistic solution consisting of intelligent logistics processes, fully integrated replenishment control, as well as “person-to-goods” order picking using WIBOTs – WIBOTs are autonomous picking mobiles that are linked in the sense of swarm-intelligence and take over the lead in the picking process. The new system was developed for the logistics centers of food and online retailers, and parts distribution.  

The decisive benefits of the EMP system

Based on the EMP software and EMP modules developed by WITRON especially for this solution, all processes and parties involved in the entire system are permanently linked with one other. Due to this vertical and horizontal networking of the entire process chain, direct communication allows all changes (such as master data, vehicles, machines, pick orders, replenishment orders, SKUs, stores, tours, frame conditions) to flow directly into the overall optimization.  

This offers numerous benefits for the customer: optimal arrangement of goods in the pick front, efficient replenishment control, the best possible utilization of the picking team members, high pick and work safety, route-optimized and store-friendly order picking, transparency regarding stored items. In addition, the system is scalable: On request, the customer can start with a small EMP system and expand it seamlessly according to demands and business development in a modular manner.  

Integration of intelligent features for order and replenishment control

Intelligent order control provides impressive added values for efficiency increase: The system access to previous and current sales numbers considering weekday fluctuations or with regard to marketing and sales actions offers the possibility of a pro-active personnel and “production planning” - in the sense of Predictive Analytics.  In addition to the double-deep and multi-depth storage, the pick front can also be stocked with different types of load carriers - with automated replenishment in “real-time” through stacker cranes.  Fast movers are stored on pallets, medium movers on layer trays, and slow movers on small trays. It is also possible to integrate a tote pick front into the picking aisle. The warehouse profile is optimized through the IT-controlled alignment of the products: Based on the order data, the EMP software - a component of the innovative smart logistics 4.0 warehouse management system - decides in a flexible and pro-active manner, which items are to be provided in which form. This variability increases the number of products in the aisle significantly while maintaining compactness shorter driving distances. Integrated inventory functionalities and zero-crossing plausibility ensure a continuous stock reliability. Optimization effects are given through the automated empties disposal of completely picked pallets.  

Autonomous vehicle - the WIBOT

In addition to the innovative logic of the EMP system, the picking mobiles called WIBOTs, developed by WITRON, are the central picking element. They navigate swarm-intelligent and guideless within the warehouse aisles and optimize the entire logistics and picking process significantly. Depending on the order workload, the number of the used picking mobiles can be adjusted rapidly and easily. 

The WIBOT supports the manual picking process in an optimal way and convinces through high flexibility and ergonomics. The vehicle is guided automatically to the respective picking location by means of WITRON’s EMP software. The software is also used for the communication of the individual WIBOTs among each other and represents a central element of swarm intelligence.  Position scanners on both sides of the vehicle automatically register the barcodes applied at the rack locations, if the WIBOT orients itself in the logistics center and stops independently at the correct pick location. A scanner applied at the front side of the vehicle guides the WIBOT collision-free through the aisle.  

Efficient material flow process 

The material flow process starts with the manual loading of up to three different load carriers onto the picking mobile. The WIBOT starts the process by displaying the warehouse aisle that is to be approached. This aisle is divided into areas of fast and slow moving items and is logically assigned to a main driving route and a passing lane for the picking mobiles. Once the aisle has been approached, the EMP guides the picker in a route-optimized manner through the entire picking process until the order is completed. Based on the optimal order calculation, the WIBOT provides the shortest track through the process. The picker benefits from the dynamic alignment of the items and the intelligent replenishment process - flexibly adapted through the EMP software - and based on current order and sales data. Unnecessary driving distances and time loss are avoided. Moreover, all required items are permanently provided in the pick front.  

Ergonomic order picking - supported by visual aids

Order picking is practically error-free through the precise support of the WIBOT: It shows the next pick location through LED displays and drives to the correct position with the optimal distance to the pick front. Parallel picking of up to three orders on different load carriers such as pallets or roll containers is simultaneously possible in the same process. An optical signal shows the picker on which load carrier a case has to be placed. Pick-by-light displays show the respective quantity to be removed from the pick position.  

Another benefit is that the warehouse employee can have the complete order be visually shown prior to start the picking process. Thus, the operator has the ability to mentally prepare for the stacking process upfront. Practical experiences have shown that the stacking pattern is optimized and the picking velocity has increased through this functionality. Based on this “human-machine-interface”, the experience of the employees is considered in the work process in the best possible way.  

Once the picker has finished the picking process, he/she can either confirm the process by simply touching the smart watch at his/her wrist or by waving the foot under the pallet. It is also possible to integrate pick-by-voice or radio frequency technology. With just a few steps, the picker follows the picking mobile to the next picking position - he/she is no longer required to get on or off the vehicle between two picking processes. Once the order has been completed, the picker guides the picking mobile manually towards the dispatch area. 

Swarm intelligence also increases safety

Having several vehicles in the same aisle is not a problem: Thanks to swarm intelligence, the WIBOT fleet, overtaking manoeuvers are automatically initiated by considering order priorities and efficiency calculations. If the system decides for an overtaking manoeuver, the picker will manually do so after being released by the system. State-of-the-art safety systems avoid collisions of vehicles with other pickers.