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SCDigest Expert Insight: Keep It Moving

About the Author

Marc Wulfraat


MWPVL International, Inc.

Marc Wulfraat is the president and founder of MWPVL International, a supply chain and logistics consulting firm.  Marc has 27 years of supply chain consulting experience across a variety of industry sectors and countries. His expertise is in supply chain strategy, facility design, material handling systems, automation, and supply chain execution technologies. He has managed many complex consulting mandates to help a diverse range of companies with their supply chain challenges. For more information, please visit

By Marc Wulfraat

April 24, 2013

Goods to Person Automation - A Multishuttle Primer

Technology Really Opens the Doors to for Extremely High Volume Distribution Environments

I am really excited about the emergence of multishuttle technology for semi-automated less than full case (i.e. split case) and/or full case distribution applications. I personally think that this technology is really set to take off and I will explain why in this blog entry which provides a primer to help explain how this solution works. A more in depth and unbiased review of the Dematic Multishuttle 2 system can be found here.

Wulfraat Says:

What makes the multishuttle unique and exciting is that throughput capabilities have been taken up by an order of magnitude as compared to previous generations of GTP technology.
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First off, the concept of "goods to person" (GTP) means that the warehouse operator is stationary and the material handling equipment brings the goods to the operator. There is a number of different types of solutions that fall into this category including: horizontal and vertical carousels; ASRS miniload systems with extractors; Kiva systems; Swisslog's Autostore system; and shuttle technology. What makes the multishuttle unique and exciting is that throughput capabilities have been taken up by an order of magnitude as compared to previous generations of GTP technology. This really opens the doors to apply this technology for extremely high volume distribution environments. In a nutshell, here is how it works:

Incoming goods are transferred from the receiving dock to work stations where operators open master cartons and deposit selling units into standardized totes.  Totes are then transferred to conveyors for automatic transport to induction points at a storage buffer.  Each induction point has a vertical lift that transfers each tote to its vertical storage level within the storage buffer.  Storage is typically random since the intent is to workload balance the aisles and levels in the system.

2. A storage buffer is essentially a 1-deep or a 2-deep racking system that provides storage for totes (or trays or cases).  Each aisle in the system is the width of a multishuttle vehicle which is about 38". The multishuttle is like a 4-wheeled go-cart that travels back and forth on rails within the level of an aisle within the storage buffer.  Thus if the storage buffer has 10 vertical levels of storage then each level can have its own multishuttle carrier so that there are 10 vehicles working concurrently within a given aisle.  This provides a 10-fold higher throughput capability versus having one ASRS miniload machine working all vertical levels within an aisle - which is why multishuttle technology is so exciting.  In fact, more than one multishuttle carrier can work concurrently within a vertical level hence throughput capacity can be even higher as required.

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3. When outbound orders are released, the multishuttle carriers work within their level to extract totes from their storage locations.  The multishuttle carrier is equipped with a pair of extractor arms that reach into the storage location to pull the tote/tray/case out of the rack and into its belly.  Once the tote is transferred onto the carrier, it is transferred at speeds of up to 787' feet per minute to a drop-off point at the end of the storage aisle where a vertical lift then takes the tote down to one of several picking work stations.  Totes/trays/cases are pulled in the exact sequence that is needed to optimize the needs of the customer orders being processed.

At the picking work stations, operators perform order picking from the incoming product tote to one or multiple orders.  The fastest picking productivity is to have one order being picked at a time, but this may not always be practical so there are multiple configurations that support 6 - 24 orders and even put-walls to be picked concurrently using put-to-light technology.  Depending on the configuration, operators can achieve upwards of 400 - 1000 order lines per hour pick rates.  Once the product tote is picked, it is pushed off and automatically transferred back into the storage buffer.  The next product tote is presented to the operator within 1 second of this transaction.  This process is fast, extremely accurate, and ergonomic by design.  

5. There are companies using this technology to ship 50,000 - 100,000 order lines per day from a highly densified storage area.    What makes this technology appealing is its ability to support very fast order turnaround times for industries where this is a critical requirement.

6. Lastly - 3 things that are great about multishuttle technology.  It is flexible in that the multishuttle carriers can work across multiple aisles and vertical levels so that they are NOT captive to an aisle/level.  The risk of failure is minimized since a carrier that needs to be maintained or repaired can easily be placed onto the vertical lift and lowered to floor level such that a spare unit can immediately be put into action - no single point of failure.  Lastly, no batteries since the system is powered by bus bars.  No downtime for battery charging so the system works 7x24x365.


It is interesting to see where this technology is being deployed:

  1) Manufacturers are storing products into the multishuttle system prior to shipping as a means to provide faster order turnaround time thus enabling extended order cutoff times for better customer service.  

2) Retailers handling high volumes of split case merchandise with the goals to maximize labor productivity and accuracy; and to ensure that the heaviest totes are always sequenced to be at the bottom of the pallet.

3) Distributors seeking to maximize space utilization, efficiency and order fill rates.

4) Companies seeking a high security storage environment for products that are of high value or are highly secure (e.g. pharmaceuticals).

5) Companies that are dealing with high SKU proliferation and/or high growth rates where there is  a need for system scalability since these solutions can easily be expanded in height, length or width.

Final Thoughts

By the way, this is not bleeding edge technology. The number of multishuttle carriers working in the field at the start of 2013 is in the thousands and growing rapidly. So the next time we speak, if you hear me talking with excitement about multishuttle technology, now you know why.

Recent Feedback

I loved the post. The industry is in quite the dynamic state right now, and the article I want to share with you goes into detail about adapting supply-chain management systems to a new retail culture. If you find the time, please check it out!

United Warehouse
Sep, 28 2017