Medical apparel maker Healing Hands Scrubs is using collaborative robots—or cobots—to manage the ups and downs that come with increasing demand for its products. According to Sid Lakhani, CEO of the East Rutherford, N.J.-based company, steady growth as well as seasonal surges no longer add up to headaches for the apparel maker's managers and warehouse associates, thanks to "Chuck," a collaborative fulfillment robot designed by Waltham, Mass.-based 6 River Systems.
Built from the same technology that powers autonomous vehicles, Chuck uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to help associates work faster and more efficiently. The system uses cloud-based technology to manage the flow of orders combined with autonomous robotic carts that guide workers through the warehouse or DC, minimizing walking time and helping workers stay on task. For a growing business like Healing Hands, that means faster, more accurate picking—and the peace of mind that its fulfillment process can evolve right alongside its business.
FROM HAND TRUCKS TO ROBOTIC CARTS
Healing Hands has its roots in New York City's Garment District. Founded 40 years ago as a sportswear company, the firm began designing fashionable scrubs for nurses about 10 years ago, and the business has since taken off, according to company leaders. Explosive growth, as Lakhani describes it, caused the company to move from New York to the larger New Jersey facility, which could house the equipment, employees, and inventory needed to meet rising demand. But that wasn't all; new technology was a must as well. Lakhani said he had heard about advances in robotic fulfillment solutions and immediately began researching products that could help Healing Hands better manage its larger space and growing business—and ultimately get orders out the door more accurately and efficiently.
Chuck solved the problem by automating Healing Hands' manual picking process. At 60,000 square feet, the company's new facility was more than double the size of its previous location, creating more work for associates, who had to cover greater distances and search through a larger inventory of items while pushing a hand truck through the facility and filling one order at a time. Today, a fleet of Chucks—12 in all—guides workers along the most efficient picking path, providing enough room on the cart to accommodate up to five orders at a time.
The result? Walking time through the warehouse has been reduced, and order volume and accuracy are up: Associates can now pick up to 300 pieces per hour, more than doubling the facility's productivity, according to company leaders.
A FLEXIBLE AND SCALABLE SOLUTION
Lakhani says flexibility and scalability are the greatest advantages the Chucks have brought to the table. 6 River Systems' rental program allows the company to add Chucks when needed to handle peak volume, and it can also purchase additional Chucks to meet longer-term demand.
And because Chucks are portable, they can move with Healing Hands if it finds that an even larger location is needed to accommodate growth down the road.
"Ultimately, what [this] means for us and our customers is [that] the orders are getting picked accurately, they're getting out the same day, and our business is going to continue to grow because of this solution," Lakhani says. "This is going to take us into the future, for the next 10 years."
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