Michigan-based apparel company Carhartt Inc. has seen growing demand for its heavy-duty workwear over the past few years, and company leaders needed a fulfillment partner that could grow right along with them. They turned to third-party logistics service provider (3PL) DHL Supply Chain to help close their capacity gap and haven’t looked back. The 3PL’s new Canal Winchester, Ohio, fulfillment center is a dedicated facility for Carhartt, filling omnichannel orders with the help of assisted-picking robots that have not only improved picking speed but also allow the partners to scale up and down to meet seasonal demands.
The partnership is a win-win, according to both companies. They note that it reached a major milestone earlier this year when the facility achieved its 10 millionth pick with a fleet of LocusBots—assisted-picking robots from Massachusetts-based robotics company Locus Robotics.
Opened in May 2021, DHL Supply Chain’s Canal Winchester facility covers 556,000 square feet and processes between 20 million and 25 million units per year. Initially, the facility used a largely manual, cart-based picking system, but company leaders knew they’d need to add automation to meet Carhartt’s expanding order volume. DHL Supply Chain uses a variety of automated warehouse technologies to speed throughput at its facilities nationwide, tailoring solutions to clients’ needs. The speed and flexibility of assisted-picking robots offered the best solution for Carhartt, according to Justin Kastman, director of operations for DHL Supply Chain, and Reece Clemens, the 3PL’s general manager for Carhartt operations.
Prior to implementing the LocusBots, workers at the facility picked between 60 and 70 units per hour, according to Kastman. With the help of the bots, they’ve tripled that volume, processing 180 to 200 units per hour on average, he says. That adds up to big labor and cost savings, and workers say it also simplifies their jobs. It takes about an hour to train new workers on how to use the robots, which work alongside pickers, directing them to bin locations throughout the warehouse via the most efficient path and allowing for hands-free picking. The bots then deliver completed orders to the next stage of the process on their own. Ultimately, associates spend less time walking and pushing heavy carts and instead focus on value-added work.
Clemens emphasizes the system’s flexibility, which allows DHL Supply Chain to scale up and down to meet demand fluctuations. The Canal Winchester facility utilizes about 50 LocusBots on a regular basis and expands the fleet to more than 80 units during peak holiday shipping season, for example. The facility employs about 340 associates working four shifts, seven days a week.
Flexibility and scalability are what helped push the Carhartt facility to that 10 millionth pick, and they’re also the driving force behind DHL Supply Chain’s broader use of the technology.“In fact, [DHL Supply Chain] as a whole has just surpassed 100 million units picked [with the LocusBots],” Clemens reports. “So it just goes to show the scalability [of the solution].”