December 13, 2018

3PLs turn to robots to handle holiday surge

Geodis and Radial deploy Locus Robotics AMRs to boost fulfillment efficiency.

By DC Velocity Staff

Omnichannel commerce operations provider Radial and third party logistics provider (3PL) Geodis both said this week they will enlist the warehouse automation provider Locus Robotics to provide autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in an ongoing effort to boost efficiency in their fulfillment businesses.

French logistics giant Geodis said Wednesday it would scale up its use of Locus' robots from 30 units deployed in a 2017 pilot to 175 robots in 2018. "It's really an exciting time to be in logistics and supply chain," GEODIS Americas Chief Operating Officer Mike Honious said in a release. "Our teammates really pride themselves as being Santa's elves—we've just traded reindeer for robots and the sleigh with trucks and vans."

Radial also sees potential benefits in rolling out mobile robots for its fulfillment tasks. The King of Prussia, Pa.-based company is the former eBay Enterprise division that joined forces2016 with fulfillment specialistInnotrac. The combined company was then acquired in 2017 by Belgian postal operator bpost for $820 million.

As Radial continues to ratchet up its e-commerce fulfillment capabilities to handle swelling volumes in the U.S. parcel logistics market, it is turning to increasing investments in technology in a plan to control labor costs, boost workers' efficiency, and ensure its retail customers meet shipping deadlines for the holiday peak season, the company said Tuesday.

Radial has now deployed 20 Locus bots at its Louisville, Ky., Trade Port Warehouse facility and is currently using them to help handle holiday surge shipping volumes, the firm says. "Radial is currently piloting a modest subset of bots in the Trade Port location and looking to expand to other facilities," Sean McCartney, Radial's executive vice president, operations services, said in an email. "We are also reviewing other robotics options for implementation in 2019. The bots are working in a limited capacity during peak and plan to be full time in 2019."

Locus bots are designed to operate alongside human workers, autonomously traveling to picking locations, minimizing unproductive worker walking time, and decreasing employee fatigue while increasing throughput, Wilmington, Mass.-based Locus says. "With our technology, workers are able to do what they do best - picking - while spending less time walking," Locus CEO Rick Faulk said in a release.

The robots can also help Radial bring new employees up to speed on the warehouse floor faster, by using multi-language capabilities and simple tablet-based interfaces to onboard new hires without spending significant time and resources on training and development, the company said. "Every year we hire more than 20,000 seasonal workers for the peak holiday season," Radial's McCartney said in a release. "By partnering with Locus Robotics, we are able to decrease the time associated with training and integrating staff into our workforce."

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