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automated warehouse

DOI: 10.1080/0020754031000120005

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int. j. prod. res., 2003, vol. 41, no. 15, 3445–3460

warehouse

ROBERT J. GRAVESz and ART ST. ONGE}

This paper addresses the order picking sequence problem in an automated ware-

house where parts of an order picker’s travelling tour are ﬁxed, the length of the

layout is signiﬁcantly longer than the width, and the picker can hold only one item

at a given time. The problem is to ﬁnd an optimal sequence with given vertical

paths and so it is a special type of travelling salesman problem. A simple sorting-

based heuristic and an eﬃcient clustering-based algorithm are developed for this

problem. In order to use the gantry robots more eﬃciently, a ﬂexible drop buﬀer

assignment is considered and the proposed algorithms are modiﬁed for the new

operating condition. Experimental results indicate the eﬃciency of the proposed

algorithms.

1. Introduction

Warehousing functions include receiving, storing, and order fulﬁlment.

Assignment of products to storage locations, order batching or sequencing, assign-

ment of picking tasks to order pickers, and sequencing of picks (routing) are impor-

tant planning and operational decisions in the warehousing problem (Rouwenhorst

et al. 2000, Van den Berg 1999). The warehouse functions are at the core of the

business in ﬁrms such as wholesale distributors and customer-driven companies

(Daniels et al. 1998). Surveys have shown that order picking consumes more than

50% of the activities in a warehouse (Tompkins et al. 1996). It is therefore not

surprising that order picking is the single largest expense in warehouse operations

(Heragu 1997).

This paper addresses the order picking sequence problem in an automated ware-

house based on an actual industrial problem. The warehouse consists of 16 pick

zones. More than 0.4 million products can be stored in the warehouse and 0.1 million

products are typically picked every day. The pick zones are arranged in a serial

order, and there is a common conveyor between them so each order tray passes

by pick zone 1 through pick zone 16 in order. A pick zone has a gantry picking

robot and contains 85 drop buﬀers where products picked by the gantry robot are

placed and wait for their order trays. The length of the pick zone is signiﬁcantly

longer than the width. The gantry robot can hold only one item at a given time. Since

the gantry robot must place a product at the nearest drop buﬀer after picking the

yIndustrial and Systems Engineering, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152, USA.

zDepartment of Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems, Rensselaer Polytechnic

Institute, Troy, NY 12180, USA.

}St. Onge Company, York, PA 17402, USA.

International Journal of Production Research ISSN 0020–7543 print/ISSN 1366–588X online # 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd

http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals

DOI: 10.1080/0020754031000120005

3446 B.-I. Kim et al.

product, the paths between pick locations and drop buﬀers can be assumed to be

ﬁxed. Thus, the order picking sequence problem is to ﬁnd an optimal sequence with

given vertical paths, making it a special type of travelling salesman problem (TSP).

The objective is to minimize the travelling time of the gantry robot. A simple sorting

based heuristic and an eﬃcient clustering based algorithm are developed for this

problem and experimental results indicate their eﬃciency. In order to use the

gantry robots more eﬃciently, a ﬂexible drop buﬀer assignment is considered and

the proposed algorithms are modiﬁed for the new operating condition.

This paper is organized as follows. After we brieﬂy review the literature in

section 2, details of the actual industrial warehousing problem (to which our pro-

posed order-picking sequencing algorithms are applied), are presented in section 3.

A simple sorting-based heuristic, an eﬃcient clustering-based algorithm, and their

modiﬁcation for a diﬀerent operating condition are presented in section 4.

Experimental results and conclusions follow in sections 5 and 6.

2. Literature review

A brief review on warehouse planning and control is provided in this section.

Ratliﬀ and Rosenthal (1983) develop a graph-based algorithm for optimally solving

the order picking problem in a rectangular warehouse, in which there are parallel

aisles between storage areas, and a picker can change the storage areas only at the

ends of the aisles. They assume that the picker picks items for only one order at a

time and the number of items in an order is within the capacity of the picker.

Roodbergen and de Koster (2001) extend the work of Ratliﬀ and Rosenthal

(1983). They consider the order picking problem in a parallel aisle warehouse, in

which order pickers can cross over the aisles at the ends of the aisles as well as at a

middle cross aisle. They develop a dynamic programming algorithm to solve the

problem. Van den Berg and Gademann (1999) develop a transportation problem

(TP) model for a block sequencing in an automated storage and retrieval system

(AS/RS) with dedicated storage and a single-load machine. They prove that the

optimal solution of the TP problem is the optimal sequence of the machine to

minimize the travelling time. Han et al. (1987) consider an AS/RS in which the

device executes dual command cycles. They provide methods for improving the

throughput of the device and a lower bound on the dual command cycle time.

Hwang et al. (1988) present clustering-based heuristic algorithms for the batching

of orders for order picking in a single-aisle AS/RS. To minimize the total travel

distance of an order-picking device, several orders are combined into a batch and

picked in one trip. Deﬁning similarity coeﬃcients in terms of attribute vectors,

Hwang and Lee (1988) present heuristics that batch a given set of orders so that

the total travel time of the storage/retrieval device is minimized. Liu (1999) applies a

clustering technique to solve stock location and order picking problems in a distri-

bution centre that has gravity-ﬂow racks. Product items and customers are clustered

based on their similarities, which are measured using proposed metrics. He formu-

lates the clustering problem as an integer programming model and proposes a

primal-dual algorithm to solve it. Daniels et al. (1998) consider the warehouse prob-

lem in which goods are stored at multiple locations and the pick location of a part

can be selected dynamically. They present a model that simultaneously determines

the location assignment and picking sequence. They point out that the formulated

model is NP-complete and present several heuristics to solve it along with experi-

mental results. The order-picking problem has previously been modelled as a

Sequence algorithm for an automated warehouse 3447

Tchebychev travelling salesman problem (TTSP) and various algorithms for TTSP

have been developed. Among them are Bozer et al. (1990), Heragu et al. (1994), and

Goetschalckx (1983).

Ashyeri and Gelders (1985) review the existing literature on warehouse design

methods after classifying the methods as analytical, simulation, and heuristic

approaches. Van den Berg (1999) and Rouwenhorst et al. (2000) survey literature

on warehouse planning and control. Planning includes the storage location assign-

ment problem, and the control of a warehousing system includes routing, sequenc-

ing, scheduling, dwell-point selection, and order batching. Goetschalckx and Wei

(1994) present a bibliography on order-picking systems for 1985 through to 1992.

In this section, we provide details of the actual industrial warehousing problem to

which our proposed order-picking sequencing algorithms are applied. The ware-

house receives cosmetic products from several plants in the US and overseas loca-

tions. Its functions are primarily twofold. The ﬁrst is to receive the products

several thousand products in various quantities from the plants and store them in

the warehouse. The second is to receive customer orders and ﬁll them directly from

the products stored in the warehouse. Both activities occur daily. The focus of this

paper is on the order-picking sequencing problem. Intelligent agent-based algorithms

for picking (resource assignment) and replenishment operations are introduced in

other publications (see Kim et al. 2002, 2003a, 2003b).

The warehouse is fully automated, and has 16 pick zones. The pick zones are

arranged in a serial order, and there is a common conveyor between them so each

order tray passes by pick zone 1 through pick zone 16 in order. Each pick zone has a

gantry picking robot and 19 pick totes (see ﬁgure 1). Each pick tote has 48 compart-

ments, each of which stores only one product type at a given time and has a capacity

of 30 products. While a typical product is contained in only one pick zone, some

popular products may be spread over more than one pick zone and are distributed

across the pick zones. A pick zone also contains 85 drop buﬀers where products

picked by gantry robots are placed and wait for their order trays. Each drop buﬀer

can contain only one product at a given time. The conveyor speed indexes at a

constant interval as each order tray progresses through the system allowing the

drop buﬀer to deposit its contents on any designated order tray. The gantry robot

Gantry Robot

Compartment

Pick tote

Drop buffer

Conveyor

Figure 1. Gantry pick zone layout.

3448 B.-I. Kim et al.

must not only pick the items for the current order in its zone, but must also place

them in drop buﬀers prior to the order tray entering its zone. If the item is deposited

in a drop buﬀer after the tray designated to receive it has passed that buﬀer, a pick

error occurs. Each order tray will contain one customer’s order and can accommo-

date multiple line items. Each order’s line item is a single unit of a product.

In order to use gantry robots eﬃciently, 80 trays are logically formed into a

‘train’ (ﬁgure 2). The ﬁrst of the 80 trays is called the ‘locomotive’ and the remaining

79 form the train pulled by the locomotive. Each line item of orders in the order train

contains information about the product to be picked, as well as the compartment in

which the product resides. When the locomotive of an order train reaches a desig-

nated point (called trigger point) for a pick zone’s gantry, all 80 order trays in the

train are scanned to see what items, if any, must be picked from the zone. The trigger

point for a zone is a downstream point, which is three zone lengths away from the

starting point of that zone. The small highlighted rectangles in ﬁgure 2 correspond to

the items that must be picked. A work queue for the order train is then made and

ﬁlled in a batch by the gantry robot. The robot can handle only one item at a given

time. Thus, after the robot picks an item, it must place the item in a drop buﬀer prior

to picking another item. To ﬁnd an optimal or a near optimal picking sequence for

the work queue is the order-picking sequence problem, and it is this problem that we

attempt to solve in this paper. The optimal sequence is the one that requires the least

gantry travelling time.

Generally, the order-picking sequence problem can be modelled as a travelling

salesman problem (see Heragu, 1997). In this industrial application, the gantry robot

deposits a product at the nearest drop buﬀer after picking it, i.e. the one vertically

below it, making the robot sequencing problem a special type of travelling salesman

problem (see ﬁgure 3).

With an artiﬁcial pick location P0, which will be the virtual starting and ending

position for the problem (see ﬁgure 4), the problem can be modelled as the travelling

salesman problem (TSP). The travelling times between the artiﬁcial location and the

other locations are set to be zero. Since the gantry robot has two independent motors

that allow movement in both the horizontal and vertical directions simultaneously,

the time it takes to travel from one point to another depends on the maximum of the

Enlarged View

Locomotive

Order train = 80 order trays

P2 P3 Pick P5 P6 P8

P1 Locations P4 P7

Drop buffers

Figure 3. Order-picking sequence problem.

Sequence algorithm for an automated warehouse 3449

p2 p3 p5 p6

p1 p0 p8

p4 p7

horizontal and vertical movement times between the two points. Once again, because

the gantry robot must place a product at a drop buﬀer after picking the product, its

movement time from a pick location to another consists of movement time from the

pick location to the drop buﬀer plus the movement time from the drop buﬀer to the

next pick location. Thus, the order picking sequence problem can be formulated as

following a mathematical model (see Heragu 1997).

It is assumed in this model that there are n pick locations and the artiﬁcial pick

location is indexed as 0. The decision variable wij takes on binary values, 0 or 1,

depending on whether or not pick location i is visited immediately after location j in

the order picking sequence. The objective function minimizes the total travelling time

for the gantry robot to fulﬁl the orders. The ﬁrst two constraints ensure that there is

only one arrival and one departure from a pick location. The third set of constraints

are not to have any subtours in the optimal solution. The fourth set of equations

relate to the travelling time between any two pick locations.

X

n X

n

Minimize dij wij

i¼0 j¼0,j6¼i

X

n

Subject to wij ¼ 1 for each j

i¼0,i6¼j

X

n

wij ¼ 1 for each i

j¼0,j6¼i

ui uj þ ðn þ 1Þwij n for 1 i 6¼ j n

8

< movement time from location i to a nearest drop buffer

>

dij ¼ þ movement time from the drop buffer to location j, for 1 i 6¼ j n

>

:

0 for 0 i 6¼ j n, either i or j ¼ 0

wij ¼ 0 or 1 for each i,j,i 6¼ j

ui are arbitary real numbers for each i

In order to solve this problem in a near real time, a simple sorting-based heuristic

and an eﬃcient clustering-based algorithm are developed and presented in the next

section.

4.1. X-coordinate based heuristic

Under the assumption that a gantry robot must deposit the item in the drop

buﬀer nearest the location of the picked item, the sequencing of pick locations based

3450 B.-I. Kim et al.

p1 p4 p5 (h6,v6)

p7

(h2,v2)

p3 (h5,v5) p6

* (hi, vi): horizontal and vertical moving time from the

drop buffer for pi to location i+1

Figure 6. Case when an optimal solution is guaranteed by the x-coordinate based sequencing.

gives an optimal solution in many instances, because the length of a pick zone is

signiﬁcantly longer than the width (see ﬁgure 5). Speciﬁcally, when the pick locations

are sparse enough such that the horizontal movement time of the gantry robot

between any two possible locations (one is the drop buﬀer for the previous location

and the other is the next location) is always longer than the vertical movement time,

the x-coordinate based sequencing method generates an optimal solution (ﬁgure 6).

Because the gantry robot has two independent motors, one permitting movement in

the horizontal direction and the other in the vertical direction, the movement time

between two locations depends on the longer of the horizontal and vertical moving

times.

Thus, when the pick locations are sparse enough such that the horizontal move-

ment time between any two locations of the gantry robot is always longer than the

vertical movement time, the gantry moving time depends only on the horizontal

movements. Note that the vertical movement from a pick location to a drop

buﬀer is the same for any item picking sequence. The x-coordinate based sequencing

method generates an optimal solution since the sum of the movement times

between two consecutive locations equals the movement time between the start

(far west) location and the end (far east) location, which is the minimum possible

time (ﬁgure 6).

However, when the sparsity condition for the pick locations is not met, as in

ﬁgure 7, the x-coordinate based sequencing method cannot guarantee optimality.

The numbers next to the arrows in ﬁgure 7(a) correspond to vertical or horizontal

movement times between various locations. While the x-coordinate based heuristic

generates a sequence with 47 travelling time seconds in ﬁgure 7(b), a better sequence

can be generated as in ﬁgure 7(c). A clustering based algorithm is developed and

presented in the next section.

Sequence algorithm for an automated warehouse 3451

10

5 5

1

10 1 6

(a) Problem

=5+10+1+10+10+6+5 =5+11+10+1+1+7+5

Figure 7. Case when the x-coordinate based sequencing is not an optimum.

Our clustering-based sequencing algorithm has three steps: clustering locations

based on their horizontal positions, solving each cluster individually, and combining

the subtours. First, locations are clustered such that moving time between any

two locations from diﬀerent clusters is dominated by horizontal travelling time.

A clustering algorithm is developed for this purpose as follows.

Clustering algorithm

Step 0. Sort locations in increasing order of x-coordinates.

Step 1. Set current_cluster_index ¼ 1. Select a location that has the smallest

x-coordinate and place it into the current cluster.

Step 2. If there is a location from the remaining unselected locations such that the

horizontal movement time between that location and any other from the

current cluster is less than the vertical movement times of the locations,

place the location into the current cluster. Repeat step 2 until there are no

more such locations.

Step 3. If there are no more locations remaining to select, stop.

Otherwise, set current_cluster_index ¼ current_cluster_index þ 1 and put

the next right location from the previous location selected into the current

cluster. Go to step 1.

Figure 8 shows an example of clustering. While the movement time between P5

and P6 is dominated by the horizontal movement time, since the movement time

between P4 and P6 is dominated by the vertical movement time, P6 belongs to the

second cluster.

Consider the sparsity condition introduced in the previous subsection. Since the

horizontal movement dominates the movement time between clusters, the left to

right order is the (near) optimal cluster sequence to minimize the gantry movement

time if we assume the current gantry robot is located on the left. Although the

optimality has not been proven mathematically, experimental results show that the

clustering-based method produces optimal results for all the test examples presented

3452 B.-I. Kim et al.

Cluster 2

Cluster 1 Cluster 4

P4 Cluster 3

P3

P1 P8 P9

10 P5 P7 P10

P2 5 P6

5 7

1 2 2 4 5 3

4 6 4 3 3 5 5 3 6

Figure 8. Clustering.

the optimal sequence

C2

St for C1

C1 P4 C4

C3

P P3 P8 P9

1 P5 P7 P10

P2 P6

End for C2 End for C4

Last position of robot End for C3

for previous order train

* St: Virtual starting position

End: Virtual ending position for cluster

Figure 9. Virtual starting and ending positions for cluster.

in the next section. Since each cluster has a small number of locations, enumeration

methods or other optimization methods can be used to ﬁnd an optimal or near

optimal sequence more easily for each cluster.

However, we do not know what locations will be the starting and ending loca-

tions in the ﬁnal sequence. For example, in ﬁgure 7(a), the ﬁrst location itself forms

the ﬁrst cluster and the remaining locations form the second cluster according to our

clustering algorithm. In the example, the optimal starting location for the second

cluster is the second location rather than the ﬁrst in the cluster. In order to resolve

this problem, i.e. set the starting and ending locations in the sequencing problem

within a cluster, we use the concept of virtual starting and ending positions. The

virtual starting point of a cluster is set to the drop buﬀer position of the last location

in the previous cluster (see ﬁgure 9). The virtual ending point of a cluster is set to the

drop buﬀer position of the last location in the current cluster. For the ﬁrst cluster,

the virtual starting position may be set either to the last position of the gantry robot

for the previous order train or to the leftmost location for the current work queue.

For the last cluster, the virtual ending position may be set to either the rightmost

location in the cluster or any other position (see ﬁgure 9). In our experiments in the

next section, the leftmost location for the current work queue is used for the virtual

starting point of the ﬁrst cluster, and any position can be chosen as the virtual ending

position of the last cluster.

Sequence algorithm for an automated warehouse 3453

A tour for a cluster should start at the virtual start position and end at the virtual

ending position. Thus, when the total gantry moving time is calculated, the move-

ment time from the virtual starting position to the actual starting location and the

movement time from the actual ending location to the virtual ending position should

be considered. For example, if the ﬁnal location of the tour for cluster 2 is the drop

buﬀer for the location P5, the total time for the tour should include the horizontal

moving time between the drop buﬀer to location P6’s drop buﬀer. Since the virtual

starting position for cluster 3 is P6’s drop buﬀer, if the actual ending position for

cluster 2 is P5’s drop buﬀer, the moving time between the two drop buﬀers should be

included in the total gantry moving time calculation.

Discordance between the actual ending location and the virtual ending position

does not aﬀect the optimal sequence since horizontal movement dominates the

movement time between clusters. With the virtual starting and ending positions,

enumeration or other optimization techniques such as a linear programming model

can generate a (near) optimal sequence within a cluster. In our experiments, we use

the full enumeration method for clusters that have ten or fewer items and 2-Opt

algorithm (see Heragu 1997) for clusters that have a larger number of items to ﬁnd

a near-optimal sequence within a cluster. A combined sequence of optimal sequences

for all clusters is an (near) optimal sequence for the gantry robot. While there is no

beneﬁt with this algorithm in the worst case, in which there is only one cluster, this

algorithm is very eﬃcient in many others. For example, when there are 12 items to

pick from a pick zone, while the complete enumeration method requires 479 million

(12!) iterations to ﬁnd an optimal solution, this algorithm requires only 72 (3

4!)

iterations to ﬁnd a near-optimal solution (assuming there are 3 clusters of 4 locations).

This algorithm quickly generates near-optimal solutions for the industrial problem as

demonstrated by the experimental results presented in the next section.

If the operating conditions are changed so that the drop buﬀer locations for

picked items need not be directly below the location where the item is picked,

other drop buﬀer locations can be selected to minimize the total gantry travelling

time. The sequence shown in ﬁgure 10(a), for example, still follows the principle of

the x-coordinate based heuristic, and generates a better solution than the one shown

in ﬁgure 7(b). As shown in ﬁgure 10(b), it is possible to generate an even better

solution in which there is some backtracking.

The optimal drop buﬀer location to minimize the movement time between any

two locations can be selected easily. The minimum gantry movement time from

locations i to j, i.e. movement time from location i to a drop buﬀer plus time

=5+5+1+10+10+5+5 =5+10+10+1+1+6+5

Figure 10. Case with ﬂexible drop buﬀer selection condition.

3454 B.-I. Kim et al.

Pj Pi Pj

Pi Optimal drop buffer location Optimal drop buffer location

vj vj

vi vi

vi vj vi vj

hij hij

(a) vi + vj < hij (b) vi,vj < hij ≤ vi +

vj

vj

vj vj vi

vi vi

vi vi vi

vj vj vj

hij hij hij

(c) vj < hij ≤ vi (d) vi < hij ≤ vj (e) hij ≤ vi ,vj

Figure 11. Optimal drop buﬀer locations.

from the buﬀer to location j, is max(vi þ vj, hij), where hij is horizontal movement

time between locations Pi and Pj, and vi, vj are vertical movement times between drop

buﬀers and the locations. Thus, any drop buﬀers that make the movement time

max(vi þ vj, hij) are optimal drop buﬀers to minimize the movement time between

locations Pi and Pj (see ﬁgure 11). An optimal drop buﬀer among them can be found

easily as follows. Select a drop buﬀer located vi horizontal units from location Pi

toward Pj. When the selected drop buﬀer’s horizontal position is beyond Pj’s, select a

drop buﬀer that is located right under Pj. The asterisks in ﬁgure 11 show the selected

drop buﬀers in diﬀerent situations.

With the new operating conditions, the clustering method as well as the virtual

start and end positions should be changed. Step 2 in the clustering algorithm should

therefore be changed as follows.

Step 2 for new operating conditions. If there is a location from the remaining

unselected locations such that the horizontal movement time between that

location and any other from the current cluster is smaller than the sum of the

two vertical movement times, or stated mathematically as max(vi þ vj,

hij) ¼ vi þ vj, place the location into the current cluster. Repeat step 2

until there are no more such locations.

With the new clustering method, there is a large horizontal gap between clusters.

The virtual end position for each cluster is determined as follows. Xi þ vi/k is calcu-

lated for each pick location Pi in the cluster under consideration and the largest of

these values determines the x-coordinate of the virtual end position for this cluster.

Xi is the x- coordinate of pick location Pi and vi is the vertical movement time from

the pick location Pi to a drop buﬀer and k is the (constant) horizontal velocity of the

gantry robot (see ﬁgure 12). Since the units of vi and k are time and speed, the unit of

vi/k is distance. Notice that the virtual end position for one cluster is the start

position for the next (see ﬁgure 12).

Sequence algorithm for an automated warehouse 3455

C2

C1 P4 C3

P1

P3 P5

v1 P6 P7

P2

v2

v2/k End for C2

v1/k End for C1 St for C3

St for C2

* St: Virtual starting position

End: Virtual ending position for cluster

Figure 12. Virtual starting and ending positions with new operating conditions.

5. Experimental results

Table 1 shows the experimental results of several order-picking sequencing

algorithms. The ﬁrst column shows the number of line items to be picked by the

gantry robot for an order train. The second column shows the gantry movement time

for a sequence generated by the x-coordinate based heuristic used by the company in

the industrial application. The third column shows the number of clusters generated

by the proposed clustering algorithm. The average number of line items for each

cluster can be shown to be 1.61. Thus, in most cases, the full enumeration method

can be used to ﬁnd an optimal sequence within a cluster. In contrast, full enumera-

tion of sequences without clustering takes more than half an hour on a 350 MHz

Pentium Pro machine with 128 MB RAM when the number of line items to be

picked by the gantry robot for an order train is 11.

The fourth column presents the gantry movement time for a sequence generated

by the proposed clustering based algorithm. The ﬁfth column shows the optimal

gantry movement time found by a full enumeration method without clustering. The

sixth column shows the gantry movement time diﬀerence between the optimal

sequence and the sequence generated by the proposed clustering based sequencing

algorithm. Note that the proposed algorithm generates an optimal sequence for all

the test cases. The seventh column shows the diﬀerence between the optimal

sequence and the sequence generated by the x-coordinate based sequencing heuristic.

From the 48 test cases, the x-coordinate based heuristic generates optimal sequences

for 32 cases, and the diﬀerences between the generated and optimal sequences in the

remaining 16 cases are small.

The eighth through the last columns show the results for the ﬂexible drop buﬀer

selection operating condition. The ﬂexible drop buﬀer selection operation signiﬁ-

cantly reduces the gantry travelling time. Among the 48 test cases, the x-coordinate

based heuristic generates optimal sequences for 39 cases and the clustering based

algorithm for all the cases.

In order to investigate the eﬃciency of the proposed algorithm, we increase the

size of order trains such that each of them has 160 order trains. The numbers of line

items for each order train increase correspondingly. Table 2 shows the experimental

results of the x-coordinate based heuristic and the clustering based algorithm. Since

full enumeration without clustering for an order train that has more than 15 line

items takes too much time, the experiments of full enumeration without clustering

are not conducted. The numbers of line items in each order train are in the ﬁrst

column. They are approximately twice the values in the previous experiment. The

3456

Fixed drop buﬀer Flexible drop buﬀer

Diﬀ. Diﬀ. Diﬀ. Diﬀ.

No. of Time No. of Time Time x-coord cluster. Time No. of Time Time x-coord cluster.

items (sec) cluster (sec) (sec) -opt. -opt. (sec) cluster (sec) (sec) -opt. -opt.

10 35.84 7 35.49 35.49 0.35 0 29.41 4 29.41 29.41 0 0

8 33.08 4 33.08 33.08 0 0 29.28 4 29.25 29.25 0.03 0

8 32.04 5 32.04 32.04 0 0 27.05 5 27.05 27.05 0 0

9 32.04 5 32.04 32.04 0 0 28.01 4 28.01 28.01 0 0

9 36.91 8 36.79 36.79 0.12 0 29.40 6 29.40 29.40 0 0

8 31.92 7 31.92 31.92 0 0 25.93 5 25.93 25.93 0 0

9 31.81 6 31.81 31.81 0 0 26.43 4 26.43 26.43 0 0

9 29.95 5 29.95 29.95 0 0 25.89 4 25.89 25.89 0 0

11 42.98 6 42.62 42.62 0.36 0 38.09 5 37.73 37.73 0.36 0

8 30.41 5 30.41 30.41 0 0 25.23 5 25.23 25.23 0 0

7 32.53 5 32.33 32.33 0.2 0 27.00 5 27.00 27.00 0 0

8 30.26 6 30.26 30.26 0 0 24.60 6 24.60 24.60 0 0

11 41.83 5 41.83 41.83 0 0 36.89 5 36.89 36.89 0 0

9 37.79 7 37.79 37.79 0 0 31.17 6 31.17 31.17 0 0

11 35.73 8 35.73 35.73 0 0 28.88 4 28.88 28.88 0 0

8 35.46 7 35.46 35.46 0 0 28.14 4 28.14 28.14 0 0

8 30.72 8 30.72 30.72 0 0 24.08 5 24.08 24.08 0 0

9 33.76 8 33.76 33.76 0 0 27.25 5 27.25 27.25 0 0

9 37.96 7 37.96 37.96 0 0 31.65 5 31.65 31.65 0 0

9 34.53 6 34.53 34.53 0 0 29.52 5 29.52 29.52 0 0

10 37.03 6 36.47 36.47 0.56 0 31.78 4 31.78 31.78 0 0

9 37.59 6 37.59 37.59 0 0 31.56 6 31.56 31.56 0 0

8 33.43 5 33.43 33.43 0 0 28.33 5 28.33 28.33 0 0

10 38.99 7 38.99 38.99 0 0 32.18 5 32.18 32.18 0 0

9 34.70 7 34.58 34.58 0.12 0 29.17 5 29.05 29.05 0.12 0

9 33.75 3 33.44 33.44 0.31 0 31.19 3 30.89 30.89 0.3 0

9 27.00 4 27.00 27.00 0 0 24.16 2 24.16 24.16 0 0

9 36.46 7 36.28 36.28 0.18 0 29.70 6 29.70 29.70 0 0

8 27.50 6 27.50 27.50 0 0 21.90 6 21.90 21.90 0 0

8 30.30 4 30.17 30.17 0.13 0 26.32 4 26.32 26.32 0 0

9 31.89 4 31.59 31.59 0.3 0 28.12 3 27.93 27.93 0.19 0

7 33.02 7 33.02 33.02 0 0 26.86 5 26.86 26.86 0 0

9 34.60 7 34.60 34.60 0 0 29.47 4 29.47 29.47 0 0

11 38.36 7 38.32 38.32 0.04 0 31.78 4 31.78 31.78 0 0

7 29.36 5 29.36 29.36 0 0 24.63 5 24.63 24.63 0 0

9 32.00 7 31.80 31.80 0.2 0 26.70 4 26.65 26.65 0.05 0

10 40.74 5 40.62 40.62 0.12 0 35.93 5 35.81 35.81 0.12 0

11 36.35 7 36.35 36.35 0 0 29.20 4 29.20 29.20 0 0

9 32.80 6 32.70 32.70 0.1 0 27.70 5 27.60 27.60 0.1 0

9 36.87 9 36.87 36.87 0 0 28.07 6 28.07 28.07 0 0

8 33.46 6 33.46 33.46 0 0 28.71 4 28.71 28.71 0 0

11 39.89 8 39.89 39.89 0 0 31.04 8 31.04 31.04 0 0

8 34.32 6 34.32 34.32 0 0 27.77 5 27.77 27.77 0 0

6 31.13 5 31.13 31.13 0 0 27.50 2 27.50 27.50 0 0

11 42.86 6 42.52 42.52 0.34 0 37.62 5 37.37 37.37 0.25 0

10 37.57 7 37.57 37.57 0 0 30.83 7 30.83 30.83 0 0

7 26.39 4 26.39 26.39 0 0 22.47 4 22.47 22.47 0 0

3457

3458 B.-I. Kim et al.

Diﬀ. Diﬀ.

No. of Time No. of Time x-coord Time No. of Time x-coord

Items sec cluster sec -cluster sec cluster sec -cluster

18 53.83 9 53.48 0.35 46.19 4 45.93 0.26

17 51.35 8 51.35 0 45.52 4 45.52 0

17 53.79 9 53.79 0 47.02 5 47.02 0

18 54.96 9 54.96 0 48.30 6 48.30 0

19 58.03 8 57.84 0.19 51.02 4 51.02 0

17 54.07 10 54.07 0 45.27 5 45.27 0

17 52.40 7 52.40 0 46.16 4 46.13 0.03

19 57.41 7 57.41 0 50.20 4 50.20 0

20 60.39 11 59.82 0.57 51.62 7 51.05 0.57

17 50.41 5 50.41 0 45.73 4 45.73 0

16 50.33 7 50.13 0.2 43.55 5 43.35 0.2

17 49.59 11 49.42 0.17 40.89 6 40.89 0

19 56.78 9 56.34 0.44 49.24 6 48.80 0.44

17 53.77 8 53.64 0.13 46.74 6 46.74 0

20 55.95 7 55.95 0 49.50 3 49.50 0

16 50.95 10 50.61 0.34 42.77 5 42.67 0.1

17 53.71 10 53.70 0.01 45.97 4 45.97 0

22 63.25 9 63.03 0.22 57.08 3 57.08 0

16 48.08 9 47.95 0.13 40.47 4 40.47 0

17 53.54 9 53.25 0.29 45.50 5 45.35 0.15

17 55.53 6 55.53 0 49.99 5 49.99 0

22 62.91 10 62.91 0 53.69 3 53.69 0

17 51.58 7 51.30 0.28 45.62 4 45.54 0.08

18 54.45 11 54.45 0 44.96 5 44.96 0

16 50.44 8 50.37 0.07 43.34 5 43.34 0

21 61.73 8 61.73 0 53.78 5 53.78 0

17 54.33 7 54.33 0 46.91 5 46.91 0

16 52.08 6 51.92 0.16 47.46 3 47.46 0

18 56.64 8 56.37 0.27 50.31 6 50.04 0.27

20 58.30 10 58.30 0 48.93 7 48.93 0

17 51.16 9 51.16 0 42.49 6 42.49 0

18 52.26 11 52.08 0.18 43.04 6 42.86 0.18

19 57.97 9 57.97 0 49.52 6 49.52 0

18 56.99 8 56.91 0.08 49.49 6 49.46 0.03

18 54.37 9 54.37 0 46.39 5 46.39 0

15 46.84 10 46.66 0.18 39.18 5 39.18 0

18 56.58 10 56.58 0 49.02 3 49.02 0

18 54.64 8 54.49 0.15 48.44 5 48.29 0.15

14 39.50 3 39.44 0.06 37.00 3 36.94 0.06

19 53.11 7 52.99 0.12 47.48 4 47.47 0.01

18 57.29 9 56.58 0.71 49.30 6 48.95 0.35

19 57.13 8 57.05 0.08 48.50 7 48.50 0

18 58.14 8 57.60 0.54 49.53 6 49.19 0.34

18 52.90 12 52.46 0.44 43.42 6 43.24 0.18

18 52.42 8 51.94 0.48 46.54 4 46.26 0.28

19 59.00 10 58.93 0.07 50.82 7 50.74 0.08

19 54.56 10 54.56 0 47.47 4 47.47 0

Sequence algorithm for an automated warehouse 3459

ﬁfth column shows the diﬀerence between the sequence generated by the clustering-

based algorithm and the sequence generated by the x-coordinate based sequencing

heuristic. In this case, the x-coordinate based heuristic generates inferior picking

sequences for 29 cases compared with the clustering based algorithm.

With the ﬂexible drop buﬀer operating condition, the x-coordinate based

heuristic generates inferior picking sequences for 16 cases compared with the

clustering-based algorithm. Thus, the optimality of the x-coordinate based heuristic

deteriorates as the number of line items increases in an order train. However, the

travelling time diﬀerences between the x-coordinate based sequencing and the

clustering based algorithm are rather small.

To summarize, the x-coordinate based heuristic generates near optimal sequences

and the clustering-based algorithm generates optimal sequences in near real time for

all of the test cases. The ﬂexible drop buﬀer selection operation signiﬁcantly reduces

the gantry travelling time.

6. Conclusions

This paper addresses the order picking sequence problem in an automated ware-

house, in which parts of an order picker’s travelling tour are ﬁxed, the length of the

layout is signiﬁcantly longer than the width, and the picker can hold only one item at

a given time. The problem is to ﬁnd an optimal sequence with given vertical paths,

and so it is a special type of travelling salesman problem. A simple x-coordinate

based heuristic and an eﬃcient clustering based algorithm are presented for this

problem. Experimental results indicate their eﬃciency. Because of the special

layout structure, the x-coordinate based heuristic generates good solutions for the

test cases. The proposed clustering-based order picking sequence algorithm generates

optimal solutions for all of the test cases. In order to use the gantry robots more

eﬃciently, a ﬂexible drop buﬀer assignment is also considered and the proposed

algorithms are modiﬁed for the new operating condition.

Acknowledgement

This research is supported by grant number DMI 9900039 from National Science

Foundation.

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