E-commerce warehousing: learning a storage policy

01/21/2021 ∙ by Adrien Rimélé, et al. ∙ 0

E-commerce with major online retailers is changing the way people consume. The goal of increasing delivery speed while remaining cost-effective poses significant new challenges for supply chains as they race to satisfy the growing and fast-changing demand. In this paper, we consider a warehouse with a Robotic Mobile Fulfillment System (RMFS), in which a fleet of robots stores and retrieves shelves of items and brings them to human pickers. To adapt to changing demand, uncertainty, and differentiated service (e.g., prime vs. regular), one can dynamically modify the storage allocation of a shelf. The objective is to define a dynamic storage policy to minimise the average cycle time used by the robots to fulfil requests. We propose formulating this system as a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process, and using a Deep Q-learning agent from Reinforcement Learning, to learn an efficient real-time storage policy that leverages repeated experiences and insightful forecasts using simulations. Additionally, we develop a rollout strategy to enhance our method by leveraging more information available at a given time step. Using simulations to compare our method to traditional storage rules used in the industry showed preliminary results up to 14% better in terms of travelling times.

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