The AMRs transport items in totes from two carousels to a put wall for further order processing.

Gain productivity and space with mobile bots

Growth is good for distributors, although it can strain the limits of existing distribution center automation and support for manual operations.

This was the case for Wetek, Distributor of automotive electrical components. The company found itself facing increasing difficulties with its execution center systems before implementing a solution based on the resilience of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

The company, which is headquartered in Chanhassen, Minn. Ltd., founded in 1970, is a family-owned distributor of electrical components for manufacturers and specialists in wire harnesses and portable equipment. With a mission to provide an exceptional customer experience, Waytek is committed to making it easier for its customers to source electrical parts.

In 2007, Waytek moved to its current 100,000-square-foot distribution facility to expand its operations and installed a sorting conveyor system to handle its expected volumes at the time. This transportation system helped them sort orders up to a capacity of 800 orders per day for 13 years.

With high demand for components across the manufacturing sector combined with a tight job market, Waytek found itself in the midst of tough times by 2020. Order volumes grew rapidly as a result of the growth of e-commerce and orders from existing customers, but the current warehouses were automation technology, which included two systems Two separate horizontal carousels for storage and order picking, and the transportation system is about to reach its limits.

The conveyor sorting system is designed to sort 800 orders per day. It featured a 200-foot sorting ring that could hold 100 order bags at a time – the limiting factor that holds this system to 800 orders per day. The increase in capacity meant a major redesign of the existing carrier, interrupting operations.

Waytek wanted to keep its rotary switches and decided to consider placing walls for order sorting and using AMRs as a carrier alternative for transfer orders. This led the company to explore an AMR (Zebra Technologies) solution that could replace the conveyor and automate other tasks, such as refurbishing rotors. Zebra’s cloud-based Fetch AMR solution is now being used in place of the conveyor, in addition to replacing the manual process with colleagues bringing merchandise from receipt to rotors for replenishment. AMRs have also replaced a manual process of charge brushwood removal and recycling.

“AMRs drop incoming goods into the rotors, and order bags go from the rotors to the walls ready for packing into the AMRs,” he says. Mike LarsonCOO and co-owner of Waytek. “They are able to multitask while saving us floor space.”

AMR’s Waytek fleet was fully installed and operational in three days and consisted of three Bring your cart AMRs. AMR vehicles can position themselves under rotating mobile carts with racks called FetchCarts to transport bags or items.

There are currently 32 trolleys in the system, a handful of which are used to automate cargo pallet hauling and recycling, although most are used to move PO bags to the laying wall or to automatically move goods from receipt to drop off to rotors.

CartConnect AMR is set on a schedule to pick up loaded order carts every 20 minutes and then deliver the payload to the mode wall, then put an empty cart back into the library.

With just three bots, the AMR solution is able to process up to 25% more orders per day versus previous static automation, and productivity can be raised to a higher level in the future by adding more bots.

Another benefit is that the removal of the old system reclaimed 13% of the floor area of ​​the execution center. Other advantages of removing the conveyor included easy access for employees (they no longer need to roam long stretches of the conveyor) and reduced ambient noise.

For fellow receivers who previously refitted rotors with wheelbarrows, or other workers who moved bug wood, AMRs also eliminate some of the manual transmission tasks. With FetchCore software that manages the AMR fleet and missions, Waytek employees can operate robots using tablets or mobile phones.

Overall, the solution achieves its goals, offers a futuristic way to expand productivity by adding bots, and has proven easy to deploy and operate, Larson explains.

“Of all our technology applications to date, Fetch has been the easiest to deploy and it only took us three days to get ready to work with their AMRs,” Larson says. “AMRs are very easy to handle and there are rarely any downtime. The Fetch team also constantly maintains and updates the robots in off-hours, so you don’t have to worry about downtime.”

About the author

Roberto Michele, Senior Editor at Modern, has covered manufacturing and supply chain management trends since 1996, primarily as a former staff editor and former contributor to Manufacturing Business Technology. He has been a contributor to Modern since 2004. He has worked for several dailies, including ProMat, the North American Material Handling Logistics Show, and National Manufacturing Week. You can contact him at: [email protected]


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