As retailers strive to manage changing trends in online order fulfillment, material handling and logistics solutions providers are adjusting their approach to offering new technologies and products so they can provide more flexible “logistics ecosystems,” according to a session today at the ProMatDX trade show.
As opposed to the traditional fashion of providing distinct products like conveyors or automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), systems integrators are providing adjustable modules and subsystems that can be fit together and rearranged, said Michael Khodl, vice president of differentiated technologies with Dematic.
Khodl said Dematic uses building blocks with pre-connected application programming interfaces (APIs), instead of customized interfaces, thus simplifying the process of plugging each node into other platforms like enterprise resource planning (ERP) or warehouse management system (WMS) software.
That approach allows a "logistics ecosystem” to be interconnected on many levels, including physically, logically, and digitally, he said. For example, an in-store fulfillment operation can be linked to a larger regional DC, or a direct store delivery (DSD) process can be linked to an order processing engine downstream.
“This changes the conversation from ‘How do I apply conveyor, shuttles, sorters, and cranes to a system?’ to ‘How do I apply an ergonomic pick engine for this type of operational characteristic, so I can have human-based picking today and robot-based picking tomorrow, without having to tear out my entire subsystem?’,” he said. “Now I can plug and play this modular approach of using a robot or a human or I can mix them together.”
According to Khodl, using those modular building blocks allows integrators to apply similar technologies for a wider range of use cases, whether a customer is shipping 5,000 orders per day from an urban fulfillment center or 600,000 orders per day from a large scale DC. It also accelerates the process, compressing a facility integration schedule that used to be 16 to 18 months into a period of just 9 or 10 months, he said.