Robotic automation is helping solve two big issues that have long plagued supply chains: labor challenges and waste, especially as both relate to time use within the distribution center (DC).
Automotive tooling distributor Integrated Supply Network (ISN) is addressing both issues with a recent project using robotics-as-a-service from Locus Robotics and Körber Supply Chain Software. Representatives from all three companies talked about how this intelligent automation solution is improving productivity and operations at ISN during an education session at CSCMP EDGE 2021, being held this week in Atlanta.
ISN’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Theron Neese said the project helped automate picking at one of the company’s largest DCs quickly, without the need to change the facility’s infrastructure and with immediate return-on-investment. ISN implemented Locus’ autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to speed picking and reduce travel time throughout the facility. The cart-based AMRs, or “bots," travel to zone-based pickers located throughout the DC. The pickers then fill orders based on information gleaned from iPads integrated into the bots. When the orders are complete, the bots then make their way to a manifest station for the next step in the fulfillment and shipping process.
To date, the program has yielded big results: lines per hour (LPH) picked has gone from 20-40 under ISN’s manual system (in which pickers pushed carts throughout the facility) to 100 under the robot-assisted program, according to Neese. Employees are less fatigued and more productive, as well, thanks to the reduced walking time throughout the facility—especially the non-value-added time spent carting finished orders to the manifest station.
Neese said ISN plans to roll out the program to its other large facilities, as well as apply the bots to other processes, including put-away and cycle counting.
Victoria Kickham, an editor at large for Supply Chain Quarterly, started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for Supply Chain Quarterly's sister publication, DC Velocity.