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The History of Goods to Person Systems

May 8, 2023

Talk about productivity gains. Today’s goods-to-person automation solutions can increase picking productivity to 250 to 350 picks per person per hour, while dramatically reducing warehouse labor costs.

How did we get there?

Goods-to-person automation as an efficiency solution can be traced back to the early days of industrialization when companies began implementing automated conveyors and cranes to move and store raw materials.

Fast forward to the 1980s, in response to the need to increase the efficiency of order fulfillment for catalog sales, and the first goods-to-person systems, also called fully automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) were developed, and the foundation for modern goods-to-person automation was laid. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, AS/RS systems became more common in manufacturing and distribution centers, as they provided a way to store and retrieve pallets or large containers of work in progress inventory quickly and efficiently to save manufacturing floor space.

Early goods-to-person systems consisted of large vertical lattices or carousels that stored goods, and combined with automatic conveyors or shuttles that moved the goods to stationary pick stations.

These goods-to-picker systems greatly increased order picking efficiency and reduced labor by minimizing the need for fulfillment operators to walk between locations to pick orders.

Around the same time, the advent of barcode scanning technology made it possible to track container and pallet inventory in real-time, which improved accuracy and helped streamline the process. 

In the early 2000s, the exploding growth of e-commerce and online shopping created a new set of order fulfillment challenges. Customers expected faster delivery times, and warehouses needed to find ways to store and pick quicker and more accurately. 

This led to new advances in goods-to-person automation systems, incorporating mobile warehouse robotics to bring inventory directly to workers rather than requiring the operator to walk to the inventory. 

First Generation Goods-to-Person Automation

The first generation of robotics goods-to-person automation systems was developed by a firm called Kiva Systems.

Kiva was the first company to deploy a goods-to-person solution that included autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to move inventory storage shelves from dense storage areas directly to operators at stationary order picking stations. This technology dramatically reduced operator walk time and eliminated unnecessary steps to reduce labor and increase order picking speed.

Kiva System’s pioneering use of AMR-based goods-to-person solutions for product storage and picking, was proven to improve operator picking performance especially for less-than-case item B2B and e-commerce order fulfillment. However, Kiva Systems  was acquired by Amazon in 2012 which halted the sales of its G2P solution other companies.

Over the next few years, firms such as Geekplus, Addverb and others rapidly filled the void left by Kiva, bringing higher performance, next-generation robotic goods-to-person AMRs to the warehouse automation market.

The speed and efficiency of the goods-to-person technology have accelerated far beyond the first generation of Kiva Systems incorporating advanced AMR robotics.

These companies’ goods-to-person automation solutions are becoming the de facto standard for inventory storage and order picking in warehouse and distribution centers around the world. 

Current AMR technology solutions include advancements in navigation and safety such as Lidar and vision-based guidance, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to improve speed, efficiency, and accuracy of storage and picking.

As e-commerce continues to grow and customers’ expectations continue to rise, goods-to-person automation will likely play an even more critical role in warehouse operations in the years to come. 

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To learn more, contact us to speak with a warehouse automation specialist and arrange a complimentary consultation. 

Autonomous Mobile Robots and Goods-to-Person in Action

About Numina Group

Numina Group, an industry-leading independent systems integrator in warehouse automation, has over 35 years of experience in software development, design services, and implementation of advanced automation technologies for warehouse and distribution operations, focused on increasing order fulfillment productivity.

Numina warehouse automation specialists work in partnership with clients to evaluate and define process improvements and the right blend of warehouse automation material handling technology to deliver a rapid ROI.

Numina Group designs and implements optimized warehouse processes managed by Numina’s Real-time Distribution Software (RDS™) Warehouse Execution and Control Software. RDS is a full suite of predeveloped modules, including order release optimization for managing the latest generation autonomous mobile robot-driven goods-to-person systems (G2P), voice and pick-to-light systems, automated pack and ship conveyor systems, cartonization, conveyor system control, weight and vision audit, print and apply labeling, and high-speed sortation.

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To learn more, contact us to speak with a warehouse automation specialist and arrange a complimentary consultation. 

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