It’s been a few weeks since I returned from ProMat 2023 in Chicago and my head is still spinning. MHI, the show’s organizer, reports an overall registration count of 50,924 along with 1,051 exhibitors—and for those keeping score at home, that’s 12% more registered attendees than ProMat 2019.
And what was the buzz? According to Modern’s recent “Warehouse Equipment Outlook Survey” and MHI’s “Annual Industry Report” released at the show, it’s clear labor availability remains the most profound challenge facing warehouse and DC operations management in 2023. And quite frankly, the sheer volume of software, automation and robotics solutions on display to help augment the existing workforce and meet our pressing need for labor was overwhelming—validating the data.
If robotics wasn’t already at the top of your list of curiosities heading into ProMat, it certainly made its way up that list while you walked the floor. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). Piece-picking robotic platforms. Robotic put walls. Robotic trailer unloading. Human-centric (yes, humanoid) robotics.
“And in the midst of all this tried-and-true innovation, there’s now a lot of the talk revolving around platform integration, where software vendors are looking to coordinate the missions of multiple AMR fleets,” says senior editor Roberto Michel who logged many miles over the course the show.
According to Michel, the majority of robotics exhibitors he met with now say that more integrated, smart automation systems will also feed into analytics platforms, improving the ability of warehouse automation systems to adapt dynamically. “As a result, companies aren’t just out to automate select tasks,” he says, “they’re also after greater operational agility and real-time analytics to help contain costs while hitting service levels.”
And if you can’t make sense of the many robotics and advanced automation solutions available to operations, I might suggest you take a deep breath and read executive editor Bob Trebilcock’s System Report (page 14).
The story of Parts Town’s 200,000-square-foot distribution center in Addison, Ill., uses four mezzanine areas and is another example of a small- to mid-sized business that’s worked robotic automation into its culture to get the most out of every square foot.
At its heart of Parts Town’s success is a robotic goods-to-person storage and picking engine that’s been expanded five times since its installation to handle the company’s growth. It now features 125 bots, 19 picking ports, eight induction ports and three quality assurance ports with capacity for 65,000 bins.
“The Parts Town DC is one of most space efficient buildings I’ve ever been in,” says Trebilcock. “It uses mezzanines for receiving, the shipping sorter, packing and the AutoStore system—enabling a lot of orders to be processed in a relatively small space. I was also struck by the clever use of automation.”
The automation systems were designed to speed the flow of product from the dock to stock locations and uses monorail carriers that deliver shipping boxes from a mezzanine area to the goods-to-person picking area—clever indeed.