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Robot Transforms Picking Labor Productivity

By Greg Tavarez
July 12, 2022

Imagine a robot with the ability to transfer storage totes between payload bays and storage locations, increasing picking labor productivity by a factor of 10-times over manual picking from store or warehouse.

Alert Innovation announced it is constructing the patented Alphabot system as it moved to a larger location in Andover, Massachusetts. Alphabot is a robotic solution for grocery automation that is being deployed in major grocery retail spaces throughout the U.S.

“Our offices in North Billerica served us very well as we launched the company and started to deploy our suite of automated fulfillment solutions,” said John Lert, founder and executive chairman, Alert Innovation. “Now that we’re in a phase of rapid deployment and team growth, we need more room for our engineers and operations team to efficiently take us to the next level.”

Here’s how the Alphabot system works:

  • A bot brings a product tote containing up to eight products to the workstation for picking.
  • A second bot comes to the workstation with an order tote containing three empty shopping bags.
  • A human or robotic picker transfers goods from the product tote to the order tote.
  • The Master Control System continues flowing additional bots carrying product totes through the workstation to contribute to each order.
  • When each order is filled, another bot delivers a new empty order tote for the next order.
  • Totes are sequenced according to business rules set by the retailer, such as heavy items on the bottom, crushable items on top, and no mixing of chemical and food products in same bag.
  • Each order tote picked by Alphabot is stored in the correct temperature zone until ready to be automatically consolidated and dispensed.
  • Order totes picked manually in the store – for example, meat, fish and vegetables sold as variable weight product – are inducted into Alphabot and stored in the correct temperature zone.
  • When the customer (or delivery vehicle) arrives, the consolidated order is dispensed within a few minutes.

An Alphabot robot can travel in horizontal dimensions on plane, such as a floor or deck and vertically in the into any elevation level within the fulfillment structure, where it then transitions back to moving horizontally on that plane. These capabilities make Alphabot cost-effective, reliable and space-efficient goods-to-picker technology.

To increase labor productivity, the picking workstation will take advantage of the bot’s vertical capability by having it enter the workstation from a lower deck, ascend into transfer position in front of the picker and then exit to an upper deck, allowing for a high rate of flow of robots and totes through the workstation, as well as nearly ideal ergonomics for the picker.

The workstation controller will use an overhead projector to illuminate the pick and put locations, and sensors detect the location of the picker’s hand when making a pick or a put. Workstations can be arrayed at multiple vertical elevations because of the bot's vertical capabilities, enabling space efficiency in high-throughput systems.

Each order that is picked by Alphabot will be stored in the correct temperature zone. When the customer or delivery service arrives, the order will be dispensed within a few minutes, ensuring a pleasant customer experience.

Edited by Erik Linask

SmartCity Editor

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