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Category: RFID, Automated Data Collection, and Internet of Things

New Systems Uses Robots and RFID Readers to Perform Continuous Cycle Counting

Surgere Systems Uses Fetch Robots to Navigate the Aisles, Perform Inventor Reads, Send Data to the Cloud

Aug. 23, 2017
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Despite decades of bar code scanning, wireless radio frequency terminals, and Warehouse Management Systems, some - perhaps many - companies still have a hard time keeping track of inventory in distribution centers.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

The video shows cycle counts being performed with two levels of storage. Can the system go higher than that?

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SCDigest suspects many of these companies simply do not deploy all of the three technologies cited above, which have driven 99%+ inventory accuracy for thousands of companies over the years. Others may have the technologies, but haven't implemented them well or lack the process discipline to achieve the near perfect inventory accuracy levels.

Those seem the only reasons to explain the strong interest seen in the market for drones to continually fly the aisles of DCs and capture inventory-location information, obtained from potentially RFID scans but more commonly now from imaging systems that capture product and location bar codes.

In fact, in mid-2016 Walmart hosted journalists to a DC site in Bentonville, AR near its headquarters to see such drones in action as part of a pilot system it had been running. (See Walmart plans to Use Drones and Imaging to Take Physical Inventories in its DCs.)

As additional evidence of the interest, SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore reported that he overheard a couple of large retailers discussing their interest in such a system with PINC Systems, a company that provides drone-based inventory solutions for both inside the DC as well as yard management.

Now, news this week of a new approach from a company called Surgere (Akron, OH) that is similar in intent, but uses ground-based robots and RFID to perform near continuous cycle counts.

The company says it has launched what it calls a Robotically Optimized and Balanced Inventory (ROBi) solution to help automate cycle counts and improve overall accuracy of on-hand inventory within automotive manufacturing and warehouse environments. It adds that the system has successfully completed a full-scale pilot at a Dayton, Ohio, Tier-1 automotive supplier's distribution center and is ready for large-scale deployment.

Surgere says that ROBi integrates RFID technology with Fetch Robotic's mobile robot platform to automatically capture RFID tag information from all angles and directions. As shown in the video below, the robot travels the aisle of a DC, capturing RFID reads from several on-board readers.


Surgere's New Robot Inventory System


Moving on programmable routes, the robots communicate product and location information to Surgere's cloud-based inventory management system. Surgere says "ROBi's data acquisition accounts for height of stacked or racked product above floor, depth within shelving, and the speed of robotic travel, thus completely removing the need for manual counting and searching."

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It's not completely clear to SCDigest what Surgere does in this system versus the Fetch robot, but it appears at a high level that the robot collects all the data and then the Surgere system does something with it.

Also, the video shows cycle counts being performed with two levels of storage. Can the system go higher than that? RFID tag read ranges would seem to present challenges to go any higher, at least using passive tags, which appears to be the case here.

The Surgere press release and web site offered no press contacts to answers these questions. An email from SCDigest to the Fetch PR email box has of yet failed to generate a response.

Regardless, Surgere CEO William Wappler in the press release says "Even with WMS systems in place, many of our clients find the fast-paced automotive part and container inventory storage, retrieval, and distribution process to often be ad hoc, time-intensive, error-prone, and costly," necessitating the need for an additional system like this this.

SCDigest also has questions about how an existing WMS - which generally will have its own cycle counting application - would integrate with a system like this, and how such systems generally handle inventory transactions in a given area (e.g., an order pick) before the robot inventory has been reconciled with the inventory the WMS thinks is in a location - but we'll leave that a question for another day.

Any reaction to this cycle counting robot? Why are such solutions still needed today? Let us know your thoughts at hthe Feedback button below.

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