A New Approach to Materials Handling in Warehouses

In a discussion in the TPS + 1 SENSEI group on LinkedIn, Casey Ng drew my attention to a materials handling approach from Kiva Systems, a company started up in Boston in 2003 by engineer/MBA Mick Mountz with funding from Bain Capital, that is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon. The following is a promotional video from Youtube:

The system shown in the video is clever, and can certainly be useful in fulfilling Amazon orders or in kit picking for assembly, but it is also obviously not a panacea. It only supports a single-level of racks, and boxes or bins that can be lifted by people. If you wanted to use the overhead space for storage, you might combine it with a classical automatic storage and retrieval system, which would move the portable racks to and from from upper levels for further handling on the ground by the Kiva pods.

Bringing materials to an operator at a fixed location rather than have the operator travel to do the picking is what is also attempted by carousels, but carousels require the operator to wait up to a half-turn for the right slot to be presented, and are limited in the number of items they can carry.

Cheesecake-factory-device-in-Kiva-warehouse with highlightAs shown in the video, while the concept is innovative in terms of storage and retrieval, it does not stretch hardware technology.  As we see on the video, we see the operator who loads boxes onto racks for putaway use devices that look like the ones used in restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory or the Fish Market to notify waiting customers that their tables are ready. The pods look like giant Roombas, but move in a more restricted manner. According to Mick Mountz, the pods just move around the grid of small squares marked on the floor with optical guidance and a simple form of “after-you” system to avoid collisions. On the video, auto-ID seems to be based on plain old barcodes. There is no mention of RFID or even QR-codes. The actual transfer of boxes is manual, with a form of pick-to-light guidance. While less visible, the software that coordinates all the moving parts is clearly at the core of this system.

I learned of Kiva’s existence this morning, and have no relationship with this company.


How the 80/20 Rule will improve the safety of your warehouse | IndustryWeek

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing
“If companies can identify their high movers from a pick history list, the “vital” 20% can be optimally located within the shelving systems to maximize production efficiencies and to minimize wasted time and effort. The 80/20 Rule can help companies strategically locate “vital” materials so that employees’ efficiency and safety are maximized.”



Michel Baudin‘s insight:

In this article ergonomist Lance Perry explains that organize items in warehouses by frequency of use improves the ergonomics of manual storage and retrieval.

In Lean Logisitics, I presented the same policies as a means of increasing productivity and reducing the lead times of warehouse operations. Making what you use the most often easiest to reach improves multiple dimensions of performance at the same time. There is no tradeoff; you don’t rob Peter to pay Paul; you don’t make X better by making Y worse. That’s why we call is an improvement.

What is most puzzling is that such a simple idea is not already universally applied.

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