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As robots tackle more tasks, The Feed has begun installing Brightpick Autopicker systems in its new warehouse. The deployment includes a total of 48 robots, and Broomfield, Colo.-based sports nutrition and e-commerce company, expects it to go live in March. Brightpick has also rolled out its robots to Dr. Max, a leading European pharmaceutical supplier.
The Feed specializes in cycling nutrition, related exercise-recovery equipment, and cycling clothing. The online retailer‘s product line includes a diverse range of SKUs that vary in size and structure, which can complicate robotic fulfillment, noted Cincinnati-based Brightpick.
“From the beginning, we’ve focused on end-to-end systems,” said Jan Zizka, co-founder and CEO of Brightpick. “We started with replenishment, then fulfillment and in-aisle picking.”
“Then, we added goods-to-person robots to pick and consolidate items such as in e-grocery,” he told The Robot Report. “Our latest feature is pallet picking, still with the same robots traveling in aisles.”
The Feed looks to end-to-end automation
The warehouse automation in the 15,000 sq. ft. (1,400 sq. m) facility will include two goods-to-person (G2P) stations for manual handling of hard-to-pick items. In the first phase of the project, the mobile robots will enable The Feed to fulfill 5,000 orders per day while significantly reducing its reliance on manual labor.
Items that the Autopicker vacuum cups can easily handle will be stored in high-density storage totes to be retrieved autonomously. These items constitute the majority of warehouse space, according to Brightpick.
Small items, such as individual gel packs and supplements, will be stored in the G2P areas, where human associates can singulate the items.
High-volume items and larger SKUs, such as foam rollers, will be stored in a separate pallet picking area, where a human associate will pick an item to be consolidated into a customer order with help from the Autopicker.
“It makes no sense to put high-frequency items back into shelving,” Zizka said. “We support different modes of operation for orders to travel through the fulfillment center. An order buffer helps prepare for carriers coming at different times or going to different directions.”
Also unique to The Feed product line are water bottles that are customized with a team or a customer’s name and included with orders. A separate warehouse area is dedicated to fulfilling these custom water bottles but is still consolidated by Autopickers for specific customer orders.
“The Feed’s e-commerce platform is a performance-minded marketplace for athletes,” said Matt Johnson, founder of The Feed. “We have scaled significantly over the past few years and are moving into a new, larger warehouse. Brightpick Autopickers are a powerful way for us to keep up with our high demand now and in the future.”
“This one of the most completely automated distribution centers ever made,” Zizka asserted. “We’re trying to provide the highest level of automation to optimize fulfillment. We’re not just sticking a collaborative robot arm on a mobile base.”
Dr. Max to fill prescriptions with Autopicker
Brightpick also announced the recent deployment of Autopickers at Dr. Max in three distribution centers in the Czech Republic, including one in Prague with eight robots. Dr. Max has direct-to-consumer pharmacies and hospital clients around the country.
The pharmaceutical distribution market is highly regulated, imposing additional requirements on the supply chain. To meet these requirements, Brightpick implemented functionality to easily determine and pick pharmaceutical items with the earliest expiration date. It can quickly stop picking from any batch if, for example, it is found to be defective.
Zizka told The Robot Report that the Dr. Max warehouse is fully automated with no G2P stations and that its workflow posed unique requirements. While Dr. Max has used robotic shuttles, its automated warehouse is now capable of picking up to 7,000 items per day and consolidating orders with Autopickers in the mix, he said. The Dr. Max system also includes manual “fall back” for picking items when the robot struggles.
“When we begun on this path four years ago, if someone bought 50 piece-picking robots, it would have been nearly impossible,” said Zizka. “We’ve successfully automated walking and picking, proving that Autopicker is eligible for larger deals.”
Autopicker starts with e-grocery, pharma
Brightpick said its mobile manipulators can also reliably pick ambient and chilled groceries, packaged goods, cosmetics, electronics, medical devices, polybagged apparel, and more. It claimed that Autopicker takes just weeks to deploy and that it enables companies to reduce their picking labor by 98% and to cut picking costs by half.
The company is focusing on e-grocery and pharmaceuticals as its first two markets, said Zizka. “In the future, pharmacies will be more like micro-fulfillment centers, and robotics could be one of the keys to that,” he said.
The Robot Report Podcast recently featured Zizka as a guest. In that interview, he discussed how the idea for the Autopicker came together for Brightpick. Nearly a year ago, the company announced Autopicker and closed a $19 million round to support its U.S. expansion.
Editor’s note: Eugene Demaitre contributed to this article.