The role of experts in distribution center robotics and automation

Share this story


By Thomas R. Cutler

Distribution centers are facing ever shorter delivery times, requiring higher flexibility and efficient goods management; distribution centers are vital competitive factors for companies in trade and industry.

Perfect supply chain management is the basic requirement and there are few tested experts in the planning and implementation of customized warehousing systems for distribution and logistics.

From small warehouse facilities (under 50,000 square feet) to very large DCs (1M+ square feet), finding the right solutions for distribution centers or logistics centers must be turnkey, including warehouse technology, equipment, control system, software, and construction work. 

Assembly and production

Efficient stock keeping and optimally matched processes are crucial to ensure uninterrupted production and assembly. Intralogistics experts are increasingly looking at the role of robotics and automation when well-acquainted with the requirements placed on near-assembly and near-production warehousing systems.

Efficient warehouse technology and intelligent warehouse management software integrate raw materials, semi-finished goods, component assemblies, and finished products – whether in production supplies, replenishment or buffer systems, in kanban, kaizen, or just-in-time solutions.

Spare parts management

When it comes to supplying customers with spare parts it is essential to respond to individual requests flexibly, quickly, and reliably – worldwide. Waiting for the correct spare part is costly and annoying.

A wide range of different goods, rapid and precise delivery, and superior quality are just some of the demands that have to be met in this context.

Innovative intralogistics solutions help in meeting these demands. Solutions such as viadat (by viastore) and SAP ensure maximum inventory transparency and the optimal connection of shipping systems. Intelligent order picking solutions reduce throughput times and errors. Customers immediately receive what and whenever needed.

Frozen storage

An uninterrupted cooling chain and high energy efficiency are the major challenges when it comes to cold and frozen storage systems. Goods kept in stock are often sensitive so that they must be stored carefully and with full traceability. This requires special warehouse technology, powerful software, and intelligent processes.

Whether planning a new or upgrading an existing cold or frozen storage warehouse, a competent project partner supports planning and development stages through construction and commissioning (and further still with maintenance and servicing).

Creating solutions that continuously monitor sensitive goods and ensure closed cooling and optimized material flow are vital. From storage and retrieval to different temperature zones to efficient order picking, processes must be precisely designed according to requirements ensuring goods are always optimally cooled.

Sortation systems

Ben Outwater, director of customer service at viastore, based in Grand Rapids, MI, reported that automated sortation systems help reduce labor costs, injuries, and the time to consolidate and ship orders for manufacturers, retailers, and wholesalers. Experienced engineers help design a sortation system that reduces cost of goods shipped.

Sortation systems help reduce the costs associated with receiving, order fulfillment (picking and packing), route delivery, palletizing, and shipping by increasing current throughput and order accuracy.

With integration expertise, customers’ experience cost savings by designing systems that increase profitability and incorporate sub-systems such as label print and apply, parcel manifesting, and order packing automation.

The rise of integration partners 

Because there are so many elements in the warehouse and distribution center today, vendors of materials handling manufacturers are turning to well-versed and experienced systems integrators.


David Peacock, president of Hytrol Conveyors, recently said, “A material handling system is a huge investment and often establishes the performance capabilities of the organization.

“Consequently, experience and communication are key attributes to look for when choosing a partner that will aid you in designing and implementing the appropriate solution for your business.

“The right integration partner has the experience in your application and is a strong communicator. They must be if they are going to be your point person, your translator, your expert, and your teammate.”

Hytrol works solely through a curated list of integration partners and has done so from the beginning. Their integration partner network has been built over a 60+ year period. Each partner is different – they focus on different industries, different scales of projects, and have different capabilities for their customer networks. Yet they all must possess certain key attributes.

“Working with them, we have learned over the years which of these attributes increase the probability of a successful project and a successful relationship.  We are glad to share the insights we have gleaned throughout our years in the industry.  These are the most important attributes you should look for in a material handling integrator,” added Peacock.

viastore Systems is one of Hytrol’s integration partners and noted, “As a full-range supplier, we offer overall systems with automated storage & retrieval systems (AS/RS), shuttles, conveyor systems, order picking stations according to the ‘goods to person’ principle, programmable logic controllers (PLC), material flow system (MFS), or material flow computer and warehouse management software (WMS).”

AS/RS Systems, including reverse logistics

Whether for pallet warehouses, mini-load automated storage and retrieval systems, or tray warehouses, viastore develops and manufactures a wide range of automated storage & retrieval systems of all sizes and speed classes for all types of warehouses.

Shopping online has been embraced in a big way. With all of those parcels arriving in the mailbox or on the doorstep of consumers, there are bound to be some returns. With the e-commerce returns data just as staggering as the explosion of online shopping’s popularity, many online retailers are discovering their returns management process is not operationally efficient or effective.

Reverse logistics is not just a cost of doing business. It is a significant cost that can have an enormous impact on the bottom line. Through implementation of new affordable, flexible automated storage and retrieval systems, the reverse logistics process can be simplified. Returns can be handled as another form of inbound shipping through efficient routing and restocking of items to minimize inventory costs, labor requirements and space demands.

The first handling step of receiving and processing returns is decidedly manual. To move returned items through the disposition process quickly, utilizing an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) can speed up the processing time to maximize asset value recovery in a compressed footprint while reducing cycle times and labor-associated handling costs.

The most flexible solutions available are horizontal carousels, vertical carousels, and vertical lift modules. These self-contained systems offer higher density storage in a more compact footprint than manual storage equipment can provide.

The selection of the most appropriate AS/RS for a given reverse logistics operation is dependent on a variety of factors, including number of returns received per day, the size variability of the returned items and the desired rate of throughput for returns.

When paired with barcode scanners, light-directed picking workstations and/or put walls, items routed to the automated returns processing area post-inspection can be quickly identified.

Because the automated systems deliver the destined receptacle directly to the worker and highlight its position, both walk and search time are eliminated, enabling fewer personnel to sort and route more returns.

By applying flexible and affordable automated storage and retrieval systems with integrated inventory management software to a reverse logistics function within a warehouse or distribution center, e-commerce retailers will benefit from: a significant reduction in inventory costs, returns handling time, the amount of labor required to process returns  and the amount of space designated to house returned items as well as fast and simple sortation of items, faster crediting of customers, and quicker return to inventory for resale.


The advantages of robotics are becoming increasingly appreciated across all sectors. Robots are extremely powerful and they also relieve staff of heavy, monotonous and tiring work. Experts in innovative intralogistics offer numerous possibilities to integrate robotics solutions into material flow.

Fully automated order picking systems, for instance, pick products completely independently into the order container or shipping carton and if necessary around the clock, without a break.

Experts must be well-versed to integrate an automatic container stacking, de-stacking, or palletizing function in intralogistics systems. Robot-based intralogistics open up a new dimension of delivery capacity.

viastore is on Twitter @viastoresystems; Hytrol is on Twitter at @hytrol

Author profile:

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector and is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide. Cutler can be contacted at and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler.

Share this story