Portable Robots Transform Retail Stores Into Fulfillment Centers

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Tompkins Robotics Staff
Tompkins Robotics Staff

In an age where ‘clicks’ are increasingly surpassing ‘bricks’ and store closures are more than double the number of openings, retailers are constantly seeking new ways to utilize retail space. Kohl’s has taken many strides in this area, from selling Amazon items and accepting returns to renting space to Planet Fitness for on-site gyms. Earlier this year, the retail chain also began implementing ship-from-store capabilities to help fulfill growing eCommerce orders.

While buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) is still a popular choice among shoppers, many retailers like Kohl’s and Target are exploring ship-from-store options to offer a true unichannel model that allows customers to receive items when and where they want. One way to help transform store locations into local fulfillment hubs is through automation.

Robotics have come a long way in the last few decades, with more than 4 million robots estimated to be in warehouses by 2025, according to ABI Research. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to have a ton of space or upfront capital to begin automating your operations. Many autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), such as Tompkins Robotics’ t-Sort solution, offer a wide range of handling capabilities and design applications that enable faster throughput to increase capacity and efficiency.

Ideal for small to large distribution operations, t-Sort is a portable, scalable robot that operates like a tilt tray sorter without a fixed track, moving freely to any divert or induction station along the shortest path. Capable of handling parcels and units as small as a penny to up to 66 pounds, the t-Sort system can process a wide variety of items including apparel, shoe boxes, general merchandise, shipping bags, small-to-medium boxes, and more. When used in a retail location backroom, the t-Sort solution can facilitate inbound sortation to aisles and outbound sortation for eCommerce and BOPIS orders, enabling faster processing, reduced labor and increased customer service levels.

While automation can sometimes require a large upfront investment, the t-Sort system is fully modular and additional robots can be added or removed instantaneously without any interruption or downtime. This is a great perk for retailers that need to ramp up for holiday or peak seasons. The ultra-flexible design can be collapsed or set up in minutes and can be relocated to another location overnight, providing an added level of versatility for retailers.

Other major benefits of the t-Sort system include:

  • Space-Saving: Utilizes approximately 25 percent of the space of traditional sorters.
  • Wide Range: Multiple interchangeable tray designs are capable of handling a wide variety of products for any size or type of operations.
  • Rapid Implementation: Installation time is less than half of that of traditional tilt tray and cross belt sorters.
  • Cost-Saving: Investment is between one third and one half of the cost of traditional sortation systems and generates more than twice the ROI.
  • High Volume and Capacity: A single t-Sort system can handle 50,000 units per day per module and between 5-6 million annual units.

To learn more about our innovative robotic systems, please visit or watch them in action in this video.

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In response to COVID-19 and limiting travel, Tompkins Robotics is now offering interactive virtual tours using a variety of stationary and roaming cameras throughout the facility.  We have the capability to demonstrate five t-Sort systems with various configurations, robots and functionalities.  The main demonstration system includes three different induction types: manual, robotic and A-frame.  Our systems are capable of e-commerce order fulfillment, store replenishment, backroom and parcel / postal sortation.  We can demonstrate the original t-Sort robotic system in multiple dual level configurations and an elevator system to move robots between the levels.  Our larger t-Sort Plus robots run on single level systems with both tilt tray and crossbelt options.  In the very near future we will demonstrate the new t-Sort Mini in an additional system. We have a wide variety of inventory to demonstrate products including general merchandise, apparel, grocery, fragile goods, odd sizes and shapes and a wide range of product weights.  You will also have a chance to learn about the technologies that are integrated into our system such as automated induction, automated charging, integrated weight and dimension capture, our proprietary wireless network and Warehouse Execution System (WES), new innovations such as our automated sorter exit solution and more.  And if mobility and flexibility are important to you, we can demonstrate how easy it is to reconfigure a system, remove or add a sort table, and even fold a table into a smaller footprint for move or transport.