Automation Technologies Help Warehouses Address Growth from Existing Facilities

SKU proliferation and volume increase: warehouse automation solutions from Cimcorp allow distribution centers to manage growth without having to move on

Cimcorp_3D Shuttle 6

Cimcorp 3D Shuttle


Interest in warehouse robotics and automation continues to grow, not only for new facilities but for operations trying to manage increased volume and SKU proliferation from within existing buildings. Given low vacancy rates and the expense of relocating, the option of applying automation technology to buildings they already occupy is a practical way to accommodate inventory and SKU growth.

“All businesses are looking at how to get more out of less,” said Rick Trigatti, North America president, Cimcorp Automation Ltd. He spoke to me recently from Cimcorp’s new U.S. base near Atlanta, Georgia. “ In the U.S., there is a lot of fixed space building assets, a lot of leased buildings that cannot be easily modified. You need to be able to find a way use the technology to get a return in that existing building.”

Distribution center and warehouse operators, Trigatti noted, are looking at how they can increase inventory and product variety in their buildings, and how to access that product with improved cycle time, while having a better picture of on-hand inventory and location. Automation might just be the answer.

Cimcorp - Layer Pick

Layer picker can handle voids between cases

A point of differentiation from other solutions, Trigatti stressed that Cimcorp does not require large racking structures or miles of conveyors, utilizing AGVs instead for moving materials. It can completely automate operations, or install islands of automation within a manual facility. “We can typically transfer whatever you need with AGVs.”

Cimcorp, a manufacturer, and integrator of turnkey robotic gantry-based order fulfillment and tire handling solutions, recently established a new U.S.-based office, Cimcorp USA, Inc. in Norcross, Georgia.

“The move represents a significant milestone for Cimcorp in reaching beyond our Canadian head office to the heart of the warehouse and logistics industry in the U.S. here in the Southeast,” Trigatti continued. “Within storage and distribution, this area is becoming a magnet for U.S. companies to grow and expand their logistics networks with warehouses and distribution centers, as well as for offshore companies coming to set up shop.

“Obviously, it was important for us to be close to our customers and close to where the action is, to understand the opportunities and to support our customers better.”

Cimcorp started out in the tire industry before leveraging that expertise to provide warehousing automation solutions. “We used that knowledge as a very good foundation for entering the warehousing and logistics space,” Trigatti noted, explaining that both applications face similar challenges regarding product complexity and variety, along with delivery, product aging, and visibility issues. “The same problems exist in tire systems as they do in warehousing and distribution centers, and we think we are well poised to be successful there.”

3D Shuttle and Layer Pick Solutions 

Critical solutions for Cimcorp in the automated fulfillment space include its 3D Shuttle, as well as robotics for carton layer pick.

Cimcorp 3D Shuttle is a flexible automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) that can accommodate a range of applications large quantities of SKUs in plastic crates, totes, boxes, baskets, trays or bins. The solution uses proven gantry robot technology, combined with an innovative shuttle device integrated into the gantry, to store and retrieve totes required for order fulfillment.

Trigatti described the 3D Shuttle as an ideal fit for the assembly of crates where the crate is the SKU, or for crate-to-person presentation for order picking stations in applications such as retail, foodservice and e-commerce, as well as parts distribution. A typical 3D Shuttle gantry robot cell can handle around 5,000 cases, stacked up to 10 or 11 high, with a cycle time of 2,000 per hour. The system can be used to manage a distribution center’s entire operation or as an island of automation within a manual warehouse.

Aside from cycle time, another key consideration is cleanability, particularly relevant to an application such as dairy where leakage can occur. Cimcorp’s 3D Shuttle can remove all inventory from an area so that it can be cleaned.

Cimcorp also offers bulk order fulfillment technologies. Its layer pick solution allows single layer, multiple layer or complete pallet picking, to create rainbow pallets. Voids between cartons in a layer are not a problem. “Our technology combines clamping with the use of vacuum-based technologies that recognize where the void is and restrict airflow.”

A Shift in Thinking for Warehouse Operators

The idea of robotics can be daunting to the traditionally manual warehousing sector. Operators worry that they do not have the expertise to support it, and will be vulnerable if a robot breaks down. There is a perception that manual systems provide better flexibility in that many problems can be overcome by adding additional labor.

While managers may question whether they have the skills to deploy automated solutions, Trigatti believes that it is not a hurdle. “If they have a warehouse management system (WMS) in place, a lot of the support skills are already there.”

Cimcorp’s approach, according to Trigatti, is to make the installation as simple as possible. While there is a requirement to have some portion of the workforce which is skilled in systems automation to support the software, by and large, the support needed is on the IT side, a skill set typically already in place. Cimcorp offers a full range of customer service and support. .

Handles a Wide Range of Package and Reusable Container Sizes

Cimcorp products are designed to facilitate a variety of case and pallet types, both in the layer pick, as well as in the 3D Shuttle. “We can handle a range of different tote sizes,” Trigatti said. “We have a very dynamic, collaborative project management process, and we will work to customize the grippers to accommodate a customer’s specific tote. Many times they will have an existing container, and we will scale our system to it. If they do not have a tote, we will recommend one.”

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