Staples DCs To Roll Out Automated Pick-and-Pack Nationwide

Photo by Stan Zemanek (via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Stan Zemanek (via Wikimedia Commons)

“That was easy!”

Now office supply retailing giant Staples is applying its signature catch phrase to its distribution centers throughout the US with an innovative new automated pick-and-pack system.

Traditionally, DCs and warehouses have used a “person to goods” system that uses human workers to pick and pack orders so they can be delivered to retail stores. But Staples’ new robotic system uses two “goods to person” automated guided vehicle (AGV) robotic systems to pick items with both high cubic velocity and low cubic velocity.

Reducing Robotic Tasks and Travel

The system — which was developed by Great Star Industrial USA — already is being used in one of Staples’ key fulfillment centers and will be rolled out to its entire nationwide network during the next 24 months, according to a company news release.

Unlike other systems used in warehouses and DCs, Staples automated robotic storage and retrieval system integrates two types of AGVs into an integrated system that requires less upfront capital investment than traditional materials handling systems while simultaneously boosting productivity and accuracy.

How It Works

The first robotic vehicle is engineered to pick from existing industry wide storage mediums and can retrieve up to five unique items per trip. That’s a lot more than traditional picking systems, resulting in fewer robot tasks and less travel across the warehouse floor.

A second type of AGV essentially replaces manual pick carts. These high cubic velocity AGVs pick cells to be fed by multiple AGVs simultaneously, eliminating the kind of downtime human order pickers typically experience. These vehicles can place products directly into the pick cell and then leave immediately to perform other tasks so they are constantly in motion.

Future Applications

The new robotic system should be in use throughout the Staples distribution network by 2019, but there already are plans to expand it even more, according to Mike Bhaskaran, the company’s chief supply chain officer.

“With Staples and Great Star each leveraging their strengths in design, engineering, and supply chain operations, we’ve rapidly gone from concept to production with a robotic solution that is truly ground breaking,” Bhaskaran said. “It incorporates concepts that have never been used before. In addition to rolling it out across Staples’ network of fulfillment centers, we’re excited for its potential applications beyond these facilities.”

The results will shatter industry norms, according to Great Star Executive VP Lily Chi.

“It offers a high degree of flexibility and capability that will provide a cost-effective solution for almost any order fulfillment and warehousing operation,” Chi said.