14 Sep 2015 |
Research article |
Intelligent and Autonomous Systems
An Automated Warehouse where Robots do Repetitive and Less Attractive Tasks!
In the context of its first edition of the International Summer School on Innovation and Technological Design held at École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) in Montreal during July 2015, a team of six international students proposed an automated warehouse management system where robots would replace the workforce for repetitive and unappealing tasks in an environment where many employees currently work. This article will introduce you to the ÉTS Summer School and present their solution to the challenge of an automated warehouse management system.
École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) in Montreal organized and conducted the first edition of its International Summer School on Innovation and Technological Design, in July 2015. The 23 students (16 women, 7 men) came from partner universities and ÉTS. They were from the following 10 countries: Algeria, China (Hong Kong), Costa Rica, France, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Senegal, Singapore and Tunisia.
The Summer School started officially with the “24 hours of innovation” international competition in which some challenges offered (6 out of 20 in the 2015 edition) were identified as eligible for the Summer School. Students who chose these challenges and had been selected for the Summer School then came to Montreal during the whole month of July for a crash course in which they tried to improve their project by learning the methods related to innovation and technological design. From the creative process in which the best ideas are brought to maturity, to rapid prototyping and 3D, up to the innovation process, the students have evolved in a multidisciplinary and intercultural context. In other words, the Summer School has allowed them to structure their approach to go as far as possible in the innovation process. This training was part of a three credit university course in engineering. In addition to the training program, many social and cultural activities were organized in the evenings and on weekends to allow students to get to know each other better while discovering the cities of Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa.
The students had the opportunity to learn from a team of eight teachers that included NASA’s chief scientist on human-centered design. Several lectures were given by companies such as Ubisoft, Nexalogy Environics, GranTuned, Centech, Communautique and échoFab on the challenges of prototyping, Big Data analytics, innovation and entrepreneurship. They had the opportunity to experiment and implement, as early as the first week, their newly acquired knowledge in creativity by rising up to a real challenge proposed by the Mouvement Desjardins (a Cooperative Financial Group).
In response to this challenge, three teams of participants were formed and in a period of two days (about 12 hours), six solutions were presented! Three of them were selected by the Desjardins’ expert panel for possible implementation. Thank you Desjardins for this experience on innovation in the financial sector!
In addition to the Desjardins challenge, three significant challenges were proposed by the Office of Montreal Smart and Digital City, Stationnement de Montréal (Montreal Parking) and ÉTS professors Mohamed Cheriet, Vincent Duchaine, Robert Hausler and Mathias Glaus. The professors were supported by ÉTS researchers. These three challenges have led students to design:
- a mobile application to allow a motorist to easily find a parking space in a downtown area of a major city such as Montreal (Mohamed Cheriet, The Office of Montreal Smart and Digital City and Stationnement de Montréal);
- an on-demand waste collection system adapted to an autonomous vehicle named « Serpentine » (Robert Hausler et Mathias Glaus);
- a warehouse of products for a business similar to Amazon.com where robots are used to replace workers for repetitive and less attractive tasks (Vincent Duchaine).
The Quiché D Team proposed an automated warehouse management system where robots would replace the workforce for repetitive and unappealing tasks. The challenge of this multicultural team (Hong Kong and Mexico) was to design a system where robots would be working in an environment where many employees currently work. They had to find an innovative, efficient and safe solution for employees and managers of companies like Amazon that manages 94 warehouses in which 150,000 employees work or Walmart, which has 2.2 million employees in its 11,000 stores in 28 countries.
The Quiché D team proposed a major change in warehouse labor management:
95% of the tasks related to product reception, order preparation and shipping would be transferred to an automated and robotic system.
Employees would do the tasks that robots are unable to do correctly (5% of the tasks).
To design their solution, the students were inspired by a number of existing and demonstration technologies. To understand their proposal, we will consider a typical warehouse consisting of four product shelves storage areas (stations A to D) and facilities for product reception, pre-packaging, packaging, labeling and shipping.
Product reception would be done using automated storage systems (existing technology).
The shelves would move from their stations to the product reception area where an automated storage system would fill the shelves with the products received; then they would return to their respective station. Kiva robots (owned by Amazon Robotics) lift and carry the shelves as follows:
These robots would also move shelves containing one or more products for a given order in the warehouse to bring them close to pick up robots to prepare customer orders.
These robots are equipped with a robotic arm mounted on a mobile base to pick up products from the shelves and deposit them in bins associated with customer orders (yellow bins below). Those bins would move on conveyors in the warehouse.
Sensors placed at conveyors intersections allow an order management system to move the bins where required to pick up the different products for a given order.
Robots would pick up products on shelves using mechanism like the suction system demonstrated in the video below:
Robots would also do the products pre-packaging, packaging and labeling tasks (existing technology). Humans would do the final loading of orders for shipping.
The challenge of this proposal will be to successfully integrate these technologies efficiently, economically and safely. For this, the Quiché Team D Team is aware that additional efforts should be invested in R & D to materialize this proposal.
Following the success of the first edition, the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) will provide another opportunity for Canadian and international students to join in the second edition of its International Summer School on Innovation and Technological Design in the summer of 2016!