How to Deploy Robotic Mobile Fulfillment Systems

Lu Zhen, Zheyi Tan, Ren de Koster, Shuaian Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Many warehouses involved in e-commerce order fulfillment use robotic mobile fulfillment systems. Because demand and variability can be high, scheduling orders, robots, and storage pods in interaction with manual workstations are critical to obtaining high performance. Simultaneously, the scheduling problem is extremely complicated because of interactions between decisions, many of which must be taken timely because of short planning horizons and a constantly changing environment. This paper models all such scheduling decisions in combination to minimize order fulfillment time. We propose two decision methods for the above scheduling problem. The models batch the orders using different batching methods and assign orders and batches to pods and workstations in sequence and robots to jobs. Order picking and stock replenishment operations are included in the models. We conduct numerical experiments based on a real-world case to validate the efficacy and efficiency of the model and algorithm. Instances with 14 workstations, 400 orders, 300 stock-keeping units (SKUs), 160 pods, and 160 robots can be solved to near optimality within four minutes. Our methods can be applied to large instances, for example, using a rolling horizon. Because our model can be solved relatively fast, it can be used to take managerial decisions and obtain executive insights. Our results show that making integrated decisions, even when done heuristically, is more beneficial than sequential, isolated optimization. We also find that positioning pick stations close together along one of the system’s long sides is efficient. The replenishment stations can be grouped along another side. Another finding is that SKU diversity per pod and SKU dispersion over pods have strong and positive impacts on the total completion time of handling order batches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1671-1695
Number of pages25
JournalTransportation Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023


  • e-commerce order fulfillment
  • intralogistics optimization
  • order picking
  • replenishment
  • robotic warehouse systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Transportation


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