March 18th

Warehouse Picking Automation Solutions. Post Covid.

Denis Kolesnichenko profile image
Denis Kolesnichenko

Tough times, new hopes

For years, the business of selling online has been growing along a strong, stable and predictable trendline. The robot revolution was being actively predicted to happen by 2030-2040 by experts in any case - pandemic or no pandemic, just due to the sheer size of the extra demand for all sorts of goods to be delivered to the customer's doorstep and all the logistics trouble needed to get it there.

For some lucky companies out there on the web the bitter crisis turned into a growth opportunity. A major chunk of global consumer demand had no choice but to shift online even for some basic needs like food, drinking water and toilet paper. Every imaginable consumer shopping category had to go online immediately or expand coverage, stock and order dispatching capacity of their existing ecommerce operations and warehouse automation solutions.

Large B2B companies, industrial conglomerates and such had their share of challenges in the form of various macroeconomic disbalances and challenging resource allocation. If your business already counts daily operations in dozens or hundreds of cargo containers, doubling your capacity is well... imaginable within months and elevated budgets. On the other hand, for a company that starts from small handling posts dispatching small orders once a day via postmail it is a huge leap of faith in new technology.

So as an ecommerce company at a crossroads (which is lately the case every year), where do you focus your investment and management effort to increase the amount of online orders your warehouses can spit out in batches, starting early on every day. Shipping speed is crucial, so dispatching earlier is key to enable same day or next day delivery. This is also easily done with software-only automation with 1.5k dispatches per day, but above that, the efficiency may decrease, while storage are and density will become a problem. At this point you start investing into high-tech hardware and your advanced distribution centers. Below, you will find some general discussion-starters for where to put your money for maximum return on investment.

De-palletization and de-containerization system

When the items you receive from vendors or factories come in big palletes, it takes time to properly unwrap, sort and stock them until it appears in your inventory with validated data. While this process can work well with manual labor, at certain volumes quality becomes an issue complex machinery can be employed.

The equipment is usually very complex and expensive. While it can work in unattended mode, it still requires expert operators to be present.


For regular ecommerce houses, enabling workers to pick items for multiple orders at once is key to labor efficiency. Reducing the number of cycles the workers have to walk along the shelves is logical and it is easily achievable via route optimization and smart grouping. Various algorithms can be employed in software, but such a process is usually accompanied by a put-to-light system that helps to reduce item misplacement mistakes.

Darkstore Picking

A darkstore is a brick-and-mortar store converted into a warehouse o designed from scratch like one, where only employees are admitted. The concept is about delivering from a smaller assortment faster, from a location closer to the customer and control your last-mile. Darkstores generally look and function like small or medium-sized mixed warehouses. Some software to route orders to the correct darkstore and efficiently refill stock over night will be needed.

Conveyor Lines

A moving roller line is a well-tested invention that originates in the 19th century. Today there are many variants of this, including portable, motorized wireless belts that can fold and expand and curve. Lines are great to decrease the need to move around for your personel and streamline item movement across the warehouse. This comes at a cost: the numerous moving parts and metal structures are expensive to purchase and maintain and then it eats up a lot of space. As the result: it also **reduces** warehouse mobility due new walls made of conveyor belts dividing your large space into a network of lanes. Careful planning is required as some of these structures will be difficult to move. An airport-line comprehensive solution may be extremely efficient, but will cost at least tens of millions and will need over year of construction and implementation time, even with an off-the-shelf solution.

Robotic Shuttles

A more flexible and potentially cheaper replacement for conveyor lines are self-navigating shuttle robots that can transport a container from point A to B. A fleet of such smaller robots can be much smarter than a rigid conveyor belt, because it can be remodeled (reprogrammed) easily to any other topology.

Goods-to-Person Robot Assisted Picking

An evolution of the shuttle system: now **robots bring shelves** from a high-density storage area to product handling stations, where workers receive shelves with requested items. The more robot units you have, the less delay there will be between serving shelves to workers. Thanks to latest algorithms, the layout of how different SKUs are stored can be optimized, so that workers can pick in parallel for multiple orders, picking at least several different articles from each shelf, before dismissing it. Such a system can be highly efficient both for small and huge warehouses, eliminating the need to mount conveyor belts anywhere but in the docking areas. Such a system is also often paired with shuttle AVG or AMR.

Such a solution brings speed anywhere, where each item has to undergo multiple workstations for handling. Deployments are fairly easy: your physical warehouse space is augmented with navigational markings (some sort of tape, 2D codes and/or radio beacons) and the robots will be practically ready to go.

Full or Semi-Robotic Picking

Latest hardware developments made advanced robotic arm manipulators an everyday reality. Various companies offer mature solutions for larger container picking and sorting and early version products for small item (even grocery) sorting. The latter is known as "bin picking" and is the ultimate current Holy Grail of ecommerce robotics.

Latest hardware developments made advanced robotic arm manipulators an everyday reality. Various companies offer mature solutions for larger container picking and sorting and early version products for small item (even grocery) sorting. The latter is known as "bin picking" and is the ultimate current Holy Grail of ecommerce robotics.

Fulfilmatica offers a variety of publications about ecommerce operations and especially warehousing tips and tricks that many startups and mature companies will find useful for improving their warehouse operations efficiency. Read further to learn more about the goods-to-person solution with Fulfilmatica Fellah robot.