Friday, January 16, 2015

What Happens Inside those Massive Warehouses? By Mick Mountz



Mick Mountz talked about a new solution for managing the inventory inside a warehouse. This revolutionary solution is based on the use of thousands of mobile robots to do the required tasks around a warehouse. Today, there are human workers who perform these tasks, but this could change in the near future. When you order a product from the Internet and it reaches your door in two days, maybe you don't think how many efforts these workers have made to get the product from a warehouse and send it to your door. A warehouse worker can spend up to 70 percent of the day working around the warehouse.

In the dot com era, Mick has worked for a company that was supposed to deliver groceries online called Webvan. But, this business proved to be ineffective. About thirty items had to be assembled in a single tote. Mick came to the conclusion that there was no way of solving each base picking. Soon Webvan went out of business and Mick started to think about what the problem was and how it could be solved. He was looking for technologies that could be the ultimate among supply chain solutions.

With a brainstorming exercise, Mick began to assume different things. For example, he imagined having a large distribution center in China, where labor is extremely cheap. He imagined zero costs for every worker, which lead him to the possibility to hire ten thousand workers. Each of them will go to the distribution warehouse at 8 in the morning and pick one single product, then hold it until it is ordered. There is no way of hiring people with zero costs, so robots and certain logistics and warehousing technology can be used instead. The only task of a human worker would be to work as pick worker instead of moving around the warehouse.

It doesn't matter if it's a small distribution warehouse in Illinois or an enterprise-level supply chain warehouse in China, things like walking, searching, wasting and waiting can be eliminated. Besides productivity, there were other positive effects noticed that Mick didn't think about, such as workers not interfering with each other. Once the system is in place and working, there are ways to tune it up using adaptive and dynamic algorithms. Mick just realized that sometimes it is better to let things do their own work. When someone places an order online, they can ask themselves if there was a robot involved in the work, because it is quite possible.

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