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Celluveyor: Disentangling knots in the warehouse

The hexagonal cell that can “distribute” parcels

E-commerce has sparked a boom in global parcel logistics, fueling demand for nifty warehousing solutions – hence “Celluveyor” was born. The innovative startup combines many benefits to help tackle some of the challenges facing modern warehouses. Yet the system is as sophisticated as it is straightforward, using hexagon-shaped elements, combined in a modular system, to bring packages onto the right track – literally. Find out more about what upside-down robots have to do with order picking and how this protects the eardrums of warehouse staff in the process...

If someone asked you to name an industry that has enjoyed an unprecedented boom over the past 20 years or so, you would probably have to mention e-commerce. With the sharp rise in online orders, which was given an additional boost by the COVID-19 pandemic, some may even call it a tsunami. This is also posing major challenges to the parcel logistics segment due to the huge volumes of parcels being sent and the various tasks associated with them, such as returns. Warehouses across the world operate at full capacity year round, making process automation an increasingly vital part of storage logistics.

Disentangling knots in the warehouse

When end consumers think of the kind of modern warehouses used by online retailers, they undoubtedly have a mental image of vast halls full of countless parcels rattling off conveyor belts along “highways.” Between them are a few more tracks with rollers, where selected parcels are “picked out.” Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this idea, there is one slight problem: The system may work fantastically well when things are moving in a straight line, but changes in direction and distribution at junctions or intersections can often cause traffic jams. “Depalletization,” i.e. how parcels are distributed internally onto separate conveyor tracks, is also still a complex process. Many operators are thus on the hunt for a more ideal system that simplifies parcel distribution inside warehouses using sophisticated conveyor technology. This is where Celluveyor comes in...

Omni? Hexa? Ultra-simple!

The secret that makes Celluveyor so unique and successful according to its manufacturers is best described using the not-so-everyday terms “omnidirectional” and “hexagonal.” Despite not being in common parlance, these two words are key to explaining in plain language a solution that is as simple as it is ingenious. The three wheels are arranged in such a way that the parcels rolling over them can move in any direction (hence “omnidirectional”), while “hexagonal” refers to the individual elements, which have six sides. Each element represents a single cell in a complete system. What makes this system extra special, however, is the fact that it is fundamentally very straightforward and amazingly flexible. This is because its identical cells and its form allow any number of different layouts, creating virtually unlimited scope for designing your conveyor line just how you need it.

Cell by cell

Inspired by “upside down robots”

First things first, however. As with so many successful startups, the company behind the new technology was spun off from a university. Specifically, cellumation GmbH has its origins in the Bremer Institut für Produktion und Logistik (BIBA) in Bremen, an institute that has been researching smart manufacturing and logistics systems since 1981. And the Celluveyor is just one of these. As is the case with every engineering success story, the combination of sound basic research and a flash of inspiration opened the door to innovation.

While working on a project to design a smart conveyor belt, the future head of engineering at the company that makes the Celluveyor found himself watching a game of robot soccer. He noticed that the robots were able to move in all directions with ease and reasoned – rightly as it turned out – “If you were to flip these robots over and make the necessary tweaks to their wheels, you could also use them to transport parcels and objects with flat bases.”

Simple, flexible, compact, and more

The Celluveyor’s versatility is also its great strength. This allows it to be adapted to any customer requirement whatsoever, depending on the job at hand and the amount of space available. The modular principle behind the six-sided “robot cells” lets them be combined in any desired layout to handle all manner of different conveying tasks. Whether they are used to sort or depalletize parcels, their modular design enables tracks to be extended with minimal effort or additional entry and exit points added. Just like a highway, several lanes can be used simultaneously, thus also increasing output.

On the other hand, the technology is also capable of reducing the amount of space and number of staff required in a warehouse, a major benefit when land and skilled logistics workers are in short supply.

“Ready to play,” robust, and failsafe

Because the functionality of each cell is determined purely by software, the hardware always remains the same, regardless of what the Celluveyor is being used for. The system can also be constructed in next to no time and generally integrated within two days thanks to the “plug and play” principle.

What is more, the cells are robust, durable, and designed to last at least 50,000 operating hours – they can be considered failsafe on account of their identical modules. How? The hexagonal cells boast sixfold redundancy, meaning that, if one cell should fail, the six neighboring cells can step into the breach. The system responds instantly and takes appropriate corrective action.

Keeping a close eye

An ingenious camera system watches over the Celluveyor elements to make sure everything runs smoothly. The 3D cameras detect the items being transported, send real-time feedback on their positions, and calculate their ideal route to the exit. The single-wheel steering inside the cells rotates the item automatically into the correct orientation.

Any problems that do occur can be fixed remotely via software updates, says the manufacturer. Potential errors can be replicated virtually on a “digital twin”, and solutions can be simulated and tested out before being applied to a customer’s system. Maintenance is also surprisingly easy, as replacing a faulty cell takes less than five minutes and can even be done by warehouse staff themselves.

Quieter than an open-plan office

Anyone who has ever worked in a warehouse will know that noise levels can be a major problem. By contrast, the Celluveyor is less than 70 decibels “loud,” making it comparable to an open-plan office and allowing staff to work right next to the conveyor system, even without ear protection. Now that’s a smart cell!

E-Commerce: more than just Fulfillment

Looking for flexible, scalable and affordable logistics services for your e-commerce business? With our all-round e-fulfillment services, we provide a cost-effective solution for your shipments all around the world: from warehousing and overseas transport up to last-mile parcel services. 

Our flexible pricing models help you minimize fixed labor and inventory costs, saving you both time and money. All processes are supported by our state-of-the-art online tools to give you full visibility and control at every step.

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