The robotic mobile fulfillment system (MFS) is widely used for automating storage pick and pack activities in e-commerce distribution centers. In this system, the items are stored on movable storage shelves, also known as inventory pods, and brought to the order pick stations by robotic drive units. We develop stylized performance evaluation models to analyze both order picking and replenishment processes in a mobile fulfillment system storage zone, based on multi-class closed queueing network models. To analyze robot assignment strategies for multiple storage zones, we develop a two-stage stochastic model. For a single storage zone, we compare dedicated and pooled robot systems for pod retrieval and replenishment. For multiple storage zones, we also analyze the effect of assigning robots to least congested zones on system throughput in comparison to random zone assignment. The models are validated using detailed simulations. For single zones, the expected throughput time for order picking reduces to one-third of its initial value by using pooled robots instead of dedicated robots; however, the expected replenishment time estimate increases up to three times. For multiple zones, we find that robots that are assigned to storage zones with dedicated and shortest queues provide a greater throughput than robots assigned at random to the zones.

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Keywords Design insights, Mobile shelves, Queueing models, Robot assignment
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Journal Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review
Roy, D, Nigam, S. (Shobhit), de Koster, M.B.M, Adan, I, & Resing, J. (Jacques). (2019). Robot-storage zone assignment strategies in mobile fulfillment systems. Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, 122, 119–142. doi:10.1016/j.tre.2018.11.005