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Automated materials handling – a glossary

Article by Megan Gee


Materials handling is a broad and deep field of operations. It encompasses many different processes, equipment types, and techniques. All are oriented around getting your goods from one place to another in the shortest time, with the least expense, and the most utility.

When you focus on automated materials handling, your field might narrow, but it gets much more technical. Abbreviations and acronyms abound. Phrases and terms that you might think you’re familiar with suddenly seem to mean something very different.

To help you understand all these different areas, the glossary laid out below is here to help.



Automatic Guided Vehicle – A robot that can carry goods in racks or via other means, and is controlled remotely. This kind of robot needs supporting physical infrastructure around it to navigate a warehouse.



Automated Mobile Robot – A robot that can carry goods in racks or via other means, and is controlled remotely. These robots are equipped with scanning tools and sensor equipment that allows them to navigate more independently



Automated Storage and Retrieval System – An overarching term that can refer to any form of automated warehouse where the robots move goods to be stored in specific areas. The storage may be static or freestanding but is usually the former.



General term for the process of moving goods from one part of the warehouse to another. Often used to distinguish operations from goods-to-person, where the robots are moving items in response to an order. Also used to distinguish from production line operations.



Describes a warehousing storage solution where the shelves/racks/bins etc are kept in specific places throughout the warehouse because they are attached to fixed architectural hardpoints (pillars, support structures, walls etc).



Container Transport Unit – A type of robot frequently deployed around automated warehouses. Used for moving smaller containers full of goods either between freestanding racks, or as part of a goods-to-person solution.



Fixed automation refers to robotic warehouses that need fixed gantries and rails and tracks for the robots to move around on.



Flexible automation refers to a robotic warehouse system that does not require surrounding static physical infrastructure. Instead freestanding shelves and racks are moved by autonomous robots to where they need to be.



Referring to a storage system, describes shelving units not directly attached to the warehouse floor, but can be freely moved and dropped throughout the wider warehouse space.



The area of a warehouse where items and materials that have to be moved into general storage are first delivered upon arrival into the wider warehouse ecosystem. Often the first stage of the warehouse-based materials handling process.



Goods-to-Person – Refers to a model of warehouse automation where robots respond to orders by carrying racks of goods to designated picking areas, where individual items can be secured by warehouse staff and moved on manually to the next stage using one-touch-fulfilment.



Refers to the process by which a warehouse’s WMS and other software systems can connect to the automation provided by the robotic materials handling solution. The integration should be tailored to ensure a seamless connection between a WMS and ERP system and the warehouse robots and wider automated materials handling operations.



Light detection and ranging – a system used by warehouse robots that employ beams of light to determine the distance from objects and obstacles. Robots use this to navigate warehouse spaces.


Machine vision

An advanced software process used by warehouse robots. A digital camera video feed is filtered through a selection of advanced algorithms. This allows the robot to recognise and distinguish between shelving and staff and other specific situational hazards, and navigate safely accordingly.


Mezzanine floor

A floor built into the inner structure of a warehouse to give an extra level on which items can be stored



A large tray-like structure that is used to contain goods within a warehouse that may need to be moved or carried between specific areas. Often made from wood, but not exclusively so.


Picking station

The region of an automated warehouse specifically dedicated to the purpose of picking goods delivered by goods to person solutions. Warehouses may have several of these as a means of accelerating their overall throughput.



The colloquial term for the freestanding apparatus used for general storage that can be moved by the robots to the correct position for either materials handling or goods-to-person purposes



Robotic control system – the network of software systems that manages the robot’s movements around the warehouse and interacts with the company’s WMS and ERP arrangements in response to orders and other ongoing activities.



The process of moving goods between two separate stations within a warehouse for reasons not directly related to fulfilment or goods-to-person operations



Warehouse management software – the overarching digital infrastructure that helps coordinate and control a warehouse, whether it is automated or not.

Discover automated materials handling

Get the best possible grasp of how automated materials handling really works by reading our latest white paper on the subject. Find out more about how to maximise your materials handling through automation.

Reading though is just the beginning. To see the true scope of the application of robots in materials handling, why not visit Wise Robotics in person? As the owner and operator of Europe’s first warehouse automation demonstration centre, we understand what business leaders want to see from this next-generation technology. Discover for yourself why more and more businesses are realising that the robotic revolution isn’t coming soon. It’s already here.

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