STORAGE SYSTEMS AND METHODS
1. A storage system, comprising:
- a first set of parallel rails, and a second set of parallel rails extending transverse to the first set in a substantially horizontal plane, to form a grid pattern having a plurality of grid spaces;
a set of uprights, the uprights and rails together defining a framework;
a plurality of storage containers arranged in stacks, located beneath the rails and within the framework, each stack being located underneath a grid space and a position of each stack being defined by a grid space; and
at least one load handling device disposed on the grid rails;
wherein the uprights of the framework support at least one service means for providing services to the containers for enabling control of a system environment from within the framework.
A storage system is disclosed where goods can be stored in containers and the containers are stored in stacks. Above the stacks runs a grid network of rails (e.g., tracks) on which load handling devices can run. To take containers from the stacks and deposit then at alternative locations in the stacks or deposit then at stations where goods may be picked. The framework may be provided with one or more of the following exemplary services: power, power control, heating, lighting, cooling, sensors, and data logging devices. The provision of these services within the framework rather than across the system as a whole, can allow for flexibility in storage whilst reducing cost and inefficiency.
- 1. A storage system, comprising:
a first set of parallel rails, and a second set of parallel rails extending transverse to the first set in a substantially horizontal plane, to form a grid pattern having a plurality of grid spaces; a set of uprights, the uprights and rails together defining a framework; a plurality of storage containers arranged in stacks, located beneath the rails and within the framework, each stack being located underneath a grid space and a position of each stack being defined by a grid space; and at least one load handling device disposed on the grid rails; wherein the uprights of the framework support at least one service means for providing services to the containers for enabling control of a system environment from within the framework.
- View Dependent Claims (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20)
The present invention relates to storage systems. More specifically but not exclusively, it relates to storage systems having storage bins in stacks, the stacks being located with a grid structure.
This application claims priority from UK Patent Application Nos. GB1506365.4 filed 15 Apr. 2015, GB1514428.0 filed 13 Aug. 2015, GB1518089.6 filed 13 Oct. 2015, GB1602332.7 filed 9 Feb. 2016, GB1518091.2 filed 13 Oct. 2015, GB1518094.6 filed 13 Oct. 2015, GB1518111.8 filed 13 Oct. 2015, GB1518115.9 filed 13 Oct. 2015, GB1518117.5 filed 13 Oct. 2015 and GB1603328.4 filed 25 Feb. 2016 the content of all these applications hereby being incorporated by reference.
Some commercial and industrial activities require systems that enable the storage and retrieval of a large number of different products. One known type of system for the storage and retrieval of items in multiple product lines involves arranging storage bins or containers in stacks on top of one another, the stacks being arranged in rows. The storage bins or containers are accessed from above by load handling devices, removing the need for aisles between the rows and allowing more containers to be stored in a given space.
Methods of handling containers stacked in rows have been well known for decades. In some such systems, for example as described in U.S. Pat. No. 2,701,065, to Bertel comprise free-standing stacks of containers arranged in rows in order to reduce the storage volume associated with storing such containers but yet still providing access to a specific container if required. Access to a given container is made possible by providing relatively complicated hoisting mechanisms which can be used to stack and remove given containers from stacks. The cost of such systems are, however, impractical in many situations and they have mainly been commercialised for the storage and handling of large shipping containers.
The concept of using freestanding stacks of containers and providing a mechanism to retrieve and store specific containers has been developed further, for example as described in EP 0 767 113 B to Cimcorp. '"'"'113 discloses a mechanism for removing a plurality of stacked containers, using a robotic load handler in the form of a rectangular tube which is lowered around the stack of containers, and which is configured to be able to grip a container at any level in the stack. In this way, several containers can be lifted at once from a stack. The movable tube can be used to move several containers from the top of one stack to the top of another stack, or to move containers from a stack to an external location and vice versa. Such systems can be particularly useful where all of the containers in a single stack contain the same product (known as a single-product stack).
In the system described in '"'"'113, the height of the tube has to be as least as high as the height of the largest stack of containers, so that that the highest stack of containers can be extracted in a single operation. Accordingly, when used in an enclosed space such as a warehouse, the maximum height of the stacks is restricted by the need to accommodate the tube of the load handler.
EP 1037828 B1 (Autostore) the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference, describes a system in which stacks of containers are arranged within a frame structure. A system of this type is illustrated schematically in
Other forms of robotic load handling device are further described in, for example, Norwegian patent number 317366, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.
A further development of load handling device is described in UK Patent Application No. GB1314313.6 Ocado Innovation Limited where each robotic load handler only covers one grid space, thus allowing higher density of load handlers and thus higher throughput of a given size system. However, any suitable form of load handling device may be used.
In such known storage systems a large number of bins are stacked densely. The contents of the bins may degrade, may require lighting, heating or cooling, or may need some form of monitoring or control not currently provided by known systems.
According to the invention there is provided a storage system comprising: a first set of parallel rails or tracks and a second set of parallel rails or tracks extending transverse to the first set in a substantially horizontal plane to form a grid pattern comprising a plurality of grid spaces; a set of uprights, the uprights and tracks together defining a framework; a plurality of storage containers arranged in stacks, located beneath the rails and within the framework; at least one load handling device disposed on the grid, arranged to move laterally above the stacks on the rails, the load handling device comprising a lifting device arranged to lift one or more containers, or parts thereof, from a stack; wherein the framework comprises service means for providing services to the storage system enabling interaction, control and monitoring of the system from within the framework.
According to the invention there is further provided a method of condition monitoring a storage system comprising the steps of: providing sensor means and data logging and storage means within the framework; providing communication means to communicate data logged to a central data logging device; and monitoring the data received.
Advantageously, in accordance with one form of the invention, the uprights of the frame structure carry services such as power, water supply, data communications means, lighting means and sensing means throughout the frame structure.
In accordance with a further aspect of the invention, the services may be directed from the uprights to the individual bins, for example water may be sprayed on to the bins from the uprights.
In accordance with yet another aspect of the invention, the uprights may carry sensing means to detect fire, smoke, heat or gas within the frame structure.
In accordance with a further aspect of the invention, the uprights may comprise power supply cabling or data communications cabling such as fibre optics.
In this way, depending on the services required within the storage system or provided in individual bins, aspects of the storage system may be controlled or monitored for data relating to the contents of the bins to be relayed to a central processing system. Furthermore, services and conditions within the containers or bins may be controlled, for example temperature, moisture, lighting or other parameters via control or monitoring means supplied via the uprights of the frame system. Control functions may be provided either by a local control system in the bin or by a central system sending signals to actuators in the bins via the uprights. Data transmitted may provide information on the condition of the bins, the contents of the bins or may provide information on the condition of the storage system in the vicinity of a given upright. Furthermore, in this way, the bins may be heated or cooled as required by the specific contents of the bin.
In this way, the present invention overcomes the problems of the prior art and provides a system and method of increasing the reliability and reducing the overall cost of large bin handling storage systems.
The invention will now be described with reference to the accompanying diagrammatic drawings in which:
In use, as shown in
The frame structure 14 comprises a plurality of upright members 16 that support substantially horizontal members 18, 20. A first set of substantially parallel substantially horizontal members 18 is arranged perpendicularly to a second set of substantially parallel substantially horizontal members 20 to form a plurality of horizontal grid structures supported by the upright members 16. The members 16, 18, 20 are typically manufactured from metal. The bins 10 are stacked between the members 16, 18, 20 of the frame structure 14, so that the frame structure 14 guards against horizontal movement of the stacks 12 of bins 10, and guides vertical movement of the bins 10.
The top level of the frame structure 14 includes rails 22 arranged in a grid pattern across the top of the stacks 12. Referring additionally to
Each load handling device 30 comprises a vehicle 32 which is arranged to travel in the X and Y directions on the rails 22 of the frame structure 14, above the stacks 12. A first set of wheels 34, consisting of a pair of wheels 34 on the front of the vehicle 32 and a pair of wheels 34 on the back of the vehicle 32, are arranged to engage with two adjacent rails of the first set 22a of rails 22. Similarly, a second set of wheels 36, consisting of a pair of wheels 36 on each side of the vehicle 32, are arranged to engage with two adjacent rails of the second set 22b of rails 22. Each set of wheels 34, 36 can be lifted and lowered, so that either the first set of wheels 34 or the second set of wheels 36 is engaged with the respective set of rails 22a, 22b at any one time.
When the first set of wheels 34 is engaged with the first set of rails 22a and the second set of wheels 36 are lifted clear from the rails 22, the wheels 34 can be driven, by way of a drive mechanism (not shown) housed in the vehicle 32, to move the load handling device 30 in the X direction. To move the load handling device 30 in the Y direction, the first set of wheels 34 are lifted clear of the rails 22, and the second set of wheels 36 are lowered into engagement with the second set of rails 22a. The drive mechanism can then be used to drive the second set of wheels 36 to achieve movement in the Y direction.
In this way, one or more robotic load handling devices 30 can move around the top surface of the stacks 12 on the frame structure 14 under the control of a central picking system (not shown). Each robotic load handling device 30 is provided with means for lifting out one or more bins or containers from the stack 12 to access the required products. In this way, multiple products can be accessed from multiple locations in the grid and stacks at any one time.
It will be appreciated that if the required container 10 is not at the top of the stack 12, if each lad handling device can only carry a single container 10 then multiple load handling devices will need to co-operate in order to access the target container 10.
As shown in
The fluid to be supplied round the framework 14 is routed upwardly from the base of the system via connectors 17. The connectors 17 being adapted so as to be able to route carry or transmit multiple utilities or services such as communication means, signals, fluids, light or any other service that may be required in the framework 14 of the system.
In use, the load handling devices 30 are operative on the grid portion of the framework structure 14. The load handling devices move laterally above the stacks 12 of containers 10. The uprights 16 of the framework structure 14 are supporting the load handling devices above the stacks 12.
Due to the automated nature of such densely packed and large storage systems, visual inspection of the integrity and alignment of the structure is impossible whilst the system is in use. In order to inspect the structure visually the load handling devices would need to be shut down and a physical inspection undertaken. The down time involved in this operation would be extremely costly.
In a further aspect of the invention, the uprights 16 and indeed the under surface of the substantially horizontal grid system may be used to carry sensor means, the output of which may be logged by a data logger mounted on the structure or in a service providing bin 10 in the vicinity, or the information and data may be transmitted to a central data logging system via wireless communications or via other data transfer means such as optical cabling, again routed via the framework structure 14.
Such sensor means may comprise laser monitoring devices, laser beams being transmitted on to a portion of the framework, the shape of the reflected beam being monitored for changes representative of structural or alignment issues with the framework. It will be appreciated that other structural monitoring means may be used such as sensors comprising electrical connections to the framework 14, for example potential drop techniques for monitoring crack growth within the framework structure.
Other sensor means that may be mounted on the framework structure may include camera means such as, but not limited to, CCD cameras. Cameras mounted on the uprights 16 may be used to monitor the system whilst in use, the images being transmitted either wirelessly or via suitable communications means, to a remote monitoring system.
It will be appreciated that any type and method of communication may be used, for example WFi, Bluetooth, 3-wire serial, SigFox or other proprietary systems such as that described in UK Patent Application No. GB1509793.4 to Ocado Innovation Limited, the contents of which in hereby incorporated by reference. It will be appreciated that any other suitable communications means or protocol may be used.
It will be appreciated that cameras may be used in conjunction with other sensors to enable remote visual inspection of the storage system should one of the other sensor systems be triggered due to a fault in the framework.
In this way, the structural condition of the framework 14 may be monitored continuously whilst the storage system is in use.
In a second aspect of the invention, the uprights 16 and the grid 14 may be used to carry services that may be required by other aspects of the system. For example, power may be transmitted along suitable cables routed on the framework structure. Depending on the use of the storage system, the containers 10 may require power. Individual containers 10 may comprise heating means, cooling means, freezing means or lighting means 60. These services would require power that may be transmitted round the framework. It will be appreciated that due to the nature of operation of the system it is preferable that the containers 10 are not in fixed or releasable contact with the framework.
However, it will be appreciated that non contacting methods of transmitting the required power to individual containers 10 may be used, for example magnetic induction or RF induction. In this way, power is supplied to the service means in individual containers 10 without the need for the container to be in contact with the upright 16. The uprights 16 are located adjacent the corners of the containers 10 and each upright 16 has guiderails for the corners of the container. It will be appreciated that there will be some tolerance between the guiderails and the containers 10, for example approximately 5 mm in the case of a grid for storage and retrieval of inventory items in an order fulfilment centre.
The robotic load handler 30 comprises a gripper, the gripper being larger than the container and ensuring that the container is always guided squarely on top of the container located below in a stack 12. In this arrangement, it will be appreciated that it is possible to provide contact brushes between the containers 10 in a stack 12 and the grid uprights 16. It will be appreciated that these contact brushes may be located along the edge of each container 10. In an alternative form of container shown in
The stackable containers 10 may be provided with electrical connections between containers 10 in a stack 12 as shown in
In a third aspect of the invention, the framework 14 carries physical services such as fluids around the system. As shown in
In a conventional warehouse situation, sprinklers may be deployed from the roof of the warehouse. In a storage system as described herein, this may cover a large area and could be above the level of the grid. Such a sprinkler deployment could severely damage load handling devices as well as causing damage across a large area of the system resulting in costly shut down and replenishment of goods. Restricting the sprinkler deployment to the area beneath the grid 22 and the load handling devices may prevent costly damage.
Other fire suppressant means utilise gases such as nitrogen to starve any fire of oxygen. In the event of a gas deployment, again this could be directed at individual containers 10 but may also be in the vicinity of a stack 12 or a number of stacks 12. It will be appreciated that a lack of oxygen in the atmosphere in a given area of the system may cause danger should maintenance be required by personnel. Use of gas sensors within the framework 14 will establish if the environment is safe to inspect.
The uprights 16 and the underside of the grid 14 may be provided with connectors for connection of the containers 10 or the stacks 12 of containers 10 to the framework 14. For example, provision of power, data, signals and services on the framework requires connection to the containers via suitable connections, if the services are to be utilised by the containers 10. Any suitable connection means may be used that can connect to a container or to which containers 10 can releasably connect. For example telescopic umbilicals may be used that can extend to connect the containers 10 to the grid.
The uprights 16 and the framework 14 may be provided with sensing means capable of identifying individual containers 10, stacks 12 of containers or objects contained within the containers 10. Sensing means may comprise barcodes on the containers 10 and barcode readers on the uprights, alternatively camera means may be utilised. Any suitable method of labelling individual containers and reading said labels may be used to achieve the same objective.
In use, the identification and the location of given containers 10 by sensing means on the framework 14 enables the system to establish the identity, and hence contents, of individual containers adjacent to sensors, connectors and service means. In this way individual containers 10 may be controlled, monitored or treated by means provided on the framework 14 of the grid. For example said sensor and controlling means may control the temperature in individual containers 10; control the level of nutrients applied to the content of individual containers 10; communicate with the content of individual containers 10; and transmit data via the content of individual containers 10.
It will be appreciated that due to the presence of the load handling devices 30 on the grid 22 that the services provided within the framework 14 via the uprights will need to be routed from the base of the storage system.
It will be appreciated that in all aspects of the invention, the services provided on the framework 14 are not limited to those specifically described and that and service that may be routed via the uprights and the underside of the grid 22 may be installed.
Moreover, the embodiments described above and detailed in the accompanying figures assume that the storage system comprises containers 10 in stacks 12 disposed within a framework 14 in an unfettered manner. It will be appreciated that the system may be partitioned by suitable partitioning means into smaller sub sections defined by, for example temperature. In this way it would be possible to have an ambient portion, a chilled portion and a frozen portion for example. It will also be appreciated that the partitioning may have additional advantages, for example, partitioning enables sections of the storage system to be isolated from other sections. This may be necessary if there is a fire, for example, and fire suppressant means are used in a given area to extinguish the fire. Furthermore, in the case where the system is used for alternative uses, there may be advantages in having different gaseous atmospheres in different portions of the system. This may be achieved by partitioning the system. It will be appreciated that the partitioning means may be temporary and remotely deployable, for example roller shutters disposed under the grid.
UK Patent Application No GB1518117.5 (Ocado Innovation Limited) hereby incorporated by reference describes in detail many configurations of partitioning such a storage and retrieval system in order to protect a workforce or mitigate an incident such as a fire, a spillage or a sprinkler deployment, accidental or otherwise. This is achieved by either permanently or temporarily partitioning sections of the framework structure 14 such that incidents are contained in one part of the grid. Should temporary partitions be utilised in a smart grid and framework system described above, such as an airbag type partition, these could be mounted on the grid and their deployment or activation initiated in response to signals generated by sensor means located on the framework 14 and powered by services routed via the framework 14. The temporary partitions themselves could be mounted on the framework system 14.
Many forms of containers 10 may be envisaged for use with a Smart Grid system described above and need not be limited to the configurations described above and shown in the accompanying Figures. UK Patent Application No. GB1518091.2 (Ocado Innovation Limited) hereby incorporated by reference describes alternative forms of smart container 10 that may be used in association with the framework described above. In common with the containers 10 and 10′ described in the present application above, the configurations described therein comprise connectors capable of connecting via physical or non-contacting means with cooperating connectors on surfaces of the containers 10 that will be in contact when the containers 10 are in stacks 12 within the framework 14.
It will be appreciated that the services described above for routing through the framework may be routed via cables, pipes, wires, tubes or integrated mouldings within the framework structure. However, such cables, pipes, wires may be mounted on any of the surfaces of the framework 14 extrusions.
Many variations and modifications not explicitly described above are also possible without departing from the scope of the invention as defined in the appended claims.