Robotic Order Picking Increases Supply Chain Productivity by 100%
In today’s fast-paced e-Commerce environment, many supply chain executives face a growing logistics challenge—meeting the demands of direct-to-consumer expectations. Fueled by online shopping, shorter product life cycles and the ongoing influence of the Amazon effect, distribution centers are finding it increasingly difficult to handle large volumes of single-piece orders via traditional picking methods. Furthermore, expedited delivery times continue to require efficiencies in the supply chain, driving operational executives to seek autonomous solutions for order fulfillment.
With these growing demands in mind, GEODIS recently completed a successful robotic picking pilot at its distribution facility in Indianapolis, Indiana. The beta program involved an inventory of approximately 30,000 unique SKUs spread over 66,000 square feet during an apparel retailer’s peak season. Plagued with a dwindling labor market in the area, the facility needed to find an efficient and reliable supplement to traditional order picking. GEODIS began the search for a safe, scalable and productive solution that was fairly easy to implement and required minimal training. Enter: goods-to-person robotic picking.
With guidance from Locus Robotics, GEODIS elected to incorporate 21 LocusBots™ into the facility. These autonomous units delivered significant improvements in throughput and accuracy while eliminating wasted steps. In GEODIS warehouses, each robot determined the most efficient route through the facility for optimal efficiency and order accuracy.
Nothing lowers profitability faster than mis-picks, mis-packs and general order errors. Increasing order accuracy is therefore critical, especially when considering the soft costs of customer satisfaction and lost sales. By implementing LocusBot units, GEODIS significantly increased precision picking within the facility. An intuitive user interface coupled with hands-free, pick-to-picture technology and a zone-based system provided a women’s apparel brand with the type of accuracy required by today’s customer.
Prior to implementation, the pilot program used a conventional operation consisting of 20 employees and a considerable degree of manual labor, such as product handling, cart pushing and equipment operation. Employees walked the entire pick path as directed by the Warehouse Management System (WMS), then guided the pushcart to the packaging area for staging. With an autonomous and smart-picking solution, employees remain in specific zones while the robotic units travel between pick and put operations. Because each LocusBot is responsible for delivering products from the employee to the packaging area, the distance each employee travels during a standard shift is also considerably reduced. In the fulfillment landscape, reducing a repetitious task by even 10 seconds can yield a significant increase in productivity. In fact, through the implementation of robotic picking technology, this women’s apparel brand realized a 100 percent increase in operational efficiency.
Of course, any time businesses discuss the use of robots, there is always the question of how they will be received and used by the team. Typically, the phrase ‘robotic automation’ can evoke feelings of anxiety within a facility. During the pilot program, however, employees responded positively to the integration of the LocusBot units, stating that the robots provided a sense of empowerment and allowed them to do their jobs more effectively.
The LocusBots also possess the unique ability to recognize an employee’s identifier via their badge. They can then display text in the employee’s native language. The LocusBots ‘speak’ multiple languages, including English, Burmese, Spanish, and Chin—a Southeast Asian language spoken in Burma, India and Bangladesh. In addition to improving communication, the LocusBots reduce training time by 40 percent, allowing employees to onboard faster and feel like contributors to the team sooner.
So what does this mean for your supply chain? More and more consumers now expect ‘fast and free’ shipping, and an effective goods-to-person picking system provides the foundational means for meeting market demands with accelerated fulfillment times. As Bob Trebilock, a contributor for Modern Materials Handling, puts it: “Robotic materials handling is at a tipping point, and it feels as if the adoption rate is about to take off.”
Since the success of the pilot, GEODIS now has an extensive list of customers seeking to implement collaborative robotics in their e-Fulfillment operations.