Mobile-Robotic Solution Makes for Faster E-commerce Fulfillment

Mitch Rosenberg, VP marketing and product management, Kiva Systems, North Reading, Mass.

The rapid growth of multichannel sales has put new pressure on retailers to find a way to fulfill orders fast and inexpensively. Among the more innovative strategies is Kiva Systems’ mobile-robotic fulfillment system. Kiva’s Mitch Rosenberg, VP marketing and product management, discusses the company’s solution, which is designed to enable extremely fast cycle times with reduced labor requirements, from receiving to picking to shipping — all without conveyor.

What are some of the main challenges of traditional material handling systems with regard to e-commerce fulfillment?

The challenge with today’s e-commerce activity is that it is no longer traditional. Consumers are shopping differently today than they did even five years ago. Free shipping, overnight delivery, guaranteed product availability and vast merchandise variety are just a few of the things consumers have grown to expect from their online shopping experience. But this puts a major strain on a traditional materials handling system. 

What is Kiva Systems’ solution for order fulfillment? What are the main components of the solution? 

Kiva uses hundreds of robotic drive units that bring inventory on mobile shelves directly to workers, allowing easy and efficient access to all inventory items at all times. Kiva can handle products of all shapes and sizes, and automatically brings products to operators, eliminating wasteful time spent walking the warehouse floor. 

Kiva is a complete order fulfillment solution that encompasses inventory control, forward replenishment, picking, packing, shipping sortation, finishing and quality assurance to simultaneously improve fulfillment center productivity, speed, accuracy and flexibility.

How does Kiva’s solution differ from traditional warehouse automation systems? 

Other warehouses use conveyors or carousel systems to automate their operations, but this form of automation often involves miles of bolted-down metal and rubber equipment in winding patterns. These systems also require complicated installations, are inflexible to modifications in product shape and size, and are vulnerable to single points-of-failure. Today, business models are changing significantly with the advent of Internet and multichannel retailers. Kiva is different.It is completely portable and flexible, can handle products of all shapes and sizes, is quick to implement, and easy to use.

What are the main benefits for retailers?

The Kiva solution goes beyond traditional warehouse automation to solve real-world order-picking challenges. It is two to four times more productive than other pick, pack and ship automation approaches. Its light-directed picking, put-away and order consolidation, combined with barcode scanning and multiple methods for confirming quantity, ensure that inventory and orders are 99.99% accurate.

Also, Kiva does not require batching and waving of orders like a conveyor does, which means any order can be processed in as little as 15 minutes. And unlike traditional bolted-down automation, operators can implement the solution they need to handle current volumes, then add additional capacity quickly and easily if they need it later. With Kiva, you pay as you grow.

Can the Kiva solution scale up and down to help retailers meet changing customer demand? 

For many businesses, growth is a moving target. With Kiva, you can implement the solution you need to handle current volumes, and can easily add additional capacity quickly and easily if needed over time. This is in contrast to conventional automation, which requires planning for, and even buying, capacity several years before it is actually needed. Because of this system flexibility, Kiva customers can pay as they grow, which eliminates the risk of over- or underestimating how much to buy at once. 

Kiva also offers a Robot Rental Program, which solves one of the largest e-commerce challenges that fulfillment-center managers face in today’s unpredictable market: how to run a cost-effective operation that easily scales up and down to accommodate significant seasonal processing without sacrificing speed, accuracy or customer service.

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