Tompkins Robotics has developed a configurable software solution that can be easily integrated with Warehouse Management System applications and hardware-based products. MHD sat down with Rick Kaminska and Matt Toburen from the robotics company, who explained how this sophisticated piece of technology can conveniently be fitted into and optimise a warehouse’s operations.
Tompkins Robotics’ configurable tWES software platform powers the automation company’s tSort solution, which it has now made more powerful and versatile. Given their success in the market, the company has recently launched a standalone integration platform, Connext.
tWES is a warehouse execution platform purpose-built for automated sortation that leverages Connext and allows Tompkins to not only communicate with other businesses’ warehouse management systems (WMSs), but also software and hardware systems, including robotics solutions and traditional material handling automation technologies, to facilitate multi-vendor automation solutions.
This adaptable piece of technology can cater to various customer workflows (tWES) and transmit data between the various systems (Connext) to create solutions that make up everything from simple to highly complex automation solutions.
INTEGRATING SOFTWARE FOR MAXIMUM RESULTS
As companies continue to push for more and more automation, the result is software and hardware from every angle and more and more vendors. To implement automation successfully, it truly is all about the software and how it is integrated.
A WMS is usually at the top of the system stack of various applications in a warehouse or distribution centre. Below the WMS is an execution system layer, which is where tWES sits. Below the execution system are automation control systems.
“We receive SKU and customer order data, product information and characteristics – whatever we need to sort individual products out to either customer orders, or SKUs in the case of a returns solution,” explains Rick Kaminska, EVP at Tompkins Robotics.
“Software integrations are important for automation success because the systems need to be able to communicate with one another seamlessly,” explains Matt.
“If they can’t do this, it results in misalignment, which much of the industry has experienced as they continue to put in more automation. Stressful and risky go-lives can be a thing of the past with solid software platforms and well thought out interconnectivity between these various systems.”
“We now have to integrate with so many third-party systems, including picking arms, goods-to- person systems, and more with our own solutions that we’ve built up a centre of excellence just for integrations,” says Matt.
“It all comes from the requirement of connecting and moving the data to the right subsystem at the right time to maximise the impact of using automation. Whether it’s our own hardware solution or integrating with other vendors’ systems, the automation footprint continues to expand and drive software complexity higher.”
“That’s exactly where Connext was born from,” says Rick. “We saw the need in the market to have a standalone integration platform that could help our customers integrate, with anything, and we combined it with our years of experience to make robotics automation easier.”
SIMPLIFYING AUTOMATION WITH TOMPKIN’S SOLUTION SETS
tSort does single unit sortation by putting product on a robot and establishing where it needs to go based on customer requirements.
“This is where tWES can transform the same hardware footprint and make it work for various warehouse types”, explains Matt.
“The tWES software is configurable and extendible to enable various sorting solutions that we refer to as ‘Solution Sets’, such as central fill pharmacy, store replenishment, e-commerce, and discrete picking operations, returns logistics, and tSort can also be used as a shipping and parcel sortation system. The variance that Tompkins can deliver to the market is all because of the software platform it has created.”
“You see these robots flying around these tables and it’s like magic,” notes Matt. “There’s a lot of intelligence behind the scenes that you just can’t see by looking at the hardware alone – this is the special sauce that a lot of these execution platforms have versus a WMS, which is controlling a business’s inventory and upstream processes.”
“This secret sauce,” Matt adds, “is truly being able to create these five to 10 industry solution sets for varying customers with software and all using the same cost-effective hardware. tWES is the configurable brains that create these solutions and Connext is the expressway allowing data to go where it needs to.”
The value provided to this market is related to the solution sets Tompkins has to offer. Store replenishment, e-commerce order consolidation, picking, shipping sortation, and returns processing represent areas of the industry that still need more automation.
By combining the hardware, configuring the software, and integrating with existing systems, customers can create the ideal solution for their operations.
“A business may have a small set of SKUs or products that they sell, in which case a lot of customer orders will see the same products being ordered, or it may be a large retailer with general merchandise, and they have hundreds of thousands of SKUs,” adds Rick.
“There’s a broad variety of different products that you’re sorting from one day to the next, and a lot of variability comes with that and brings a different set of requirements. This is why adaptability in software is crucial to success.”
EXPANDING AUTOMATION’S FOOTPRINT
As the industry evolves, the technology in it also evolves. Robotics has entered this space in the past five to ten years and made some drastic changes.
Tompkins is getting involved in not only sortation robotics with tSort, but also complementary robotics innovations, such as automating the feeding and takeaway of product to and from tSort. In addition to having a leading single unit sortation solution, Tompkins is also launching additional robotics solutions in 2023 and beyond.
“We’re automating the takeaway of completed orders from tSort with our xChange solution,” explains Rick. “We also integrate with pick and place robots to induct products to tSort.“And there are other automated packaging solutions that will be fed from a tSort unit sort solution, and then the bagged order can be inducted to another tSort for parcel sortation. are becoming available such as automated bagging machines. Every step of the workflow is becoming automated in one way or another.”
Tompkins connects and communicates with a variety of technologies with its Connext platform and while tSort is fed items to sort, tWES orchestrates the entire process.
“Where tSort’s software may have received product induction from humans in the past, we’re now getting inputs from other robots,” notes Rick.
“We need our platform to communicate with those other robotic technologies to exchange that vital information to allow that process to flow smoothly.”
tSort started as a sortation solution but now it along with Connext integration platform enables Tompkins to expand its automation footprint both upstream and downstream from its core sortation offering.
Matt concludes: “We are now able to look at automation across a much wider footprint for our customers’ warehouses by combining the additional innovations coming from our robotics team and our tWES and Connext software platforms.”
For more information on Tompkins Robotics, click here.