In a time when consumers’ expectations of quick and accurate deliveries are rising, technology is undoubtedly one of the most effective means at meeting their demands.
In recent years, due to COVID-19 and other variables, eCommerce has grown faster than ever and put extra strain on peak seasons and shopping holidays such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Fast deliveries, sometimes as quick as next-day or even same-day, are becoming the norm for consumers. Companies that can’t deliver at this rate risk losing market share to their competition that can. If a business wants to stay competitive in today’s climate, continuous improvements in its warehousing and logistics workflows need to be implemented.
The world’s largest cosmetics company, with more than 20 brands and sales channels all over the world, has always maintained a leading position in the beauty and cosmetics industry. Its Suzhou warehouse in China was facing many business challenges before it upgraded its operations.
1. Low picking efficiency
The previous workflows of this warehouse were traditional manual picking and sorting. Personnel needed to walk the length of the warehouse to fulfill orders while hauling carts that weighed between 1,100–1,322 lbs. This design was labor-intensive and physically exhausting for employees. Naturally, movement speed was slow and consisted of many “empty walks” resulting in a low picking efficiency that couldn’t support the volume of orders and shipments this warehouse needed to meet.
2. High labor intensity
The laborious nature of the manual picking not only resulted in inefficient order fulfillment, but it also caused a high rate of employee turnover. This makes for labor costs and recruitment costs that are too high to be sustainable for the business.
3. Complicated picking processes
The warehouse mainly deals in B2B fulfillment. Different from the B2C practices which result in generally small orders that many automation solutions can be applied, this warehouse was dealing with large pallets and case-picking to fulfill orders. Most flexible solutions available couldn’t support these kinds of workflows. In addition, the warehouse ships out a daily average of over 25,000 boxes.
In order to solve these business pain points, the beauty group decided to collaborate with Asia’s No. 1 person-to-goods solution provider, ForwardX Robotics.
ForwardX successfully deployed over 10 AMRs in the group’s Suzhou warehouse to realize an intelligent person-to-goods picking solution. The picking area is about 53,800 square feet. After 1 month of on-site POC operations, the flexibility and efficiency were obvious. Processing over 20,000 orders per day, the UPH has increased by more than 40%, delivery accuracy reached 99.99%, and 100% of orders went out on time.
How These Results Were Achieved
Picking processes are at the base of warehousing and logistics, and the efficiency at which the process runs directly effects operating costs and the overall workflows through the entire logistics of any distribution center.
By introducing ForwardX’s AMRs and f(x) Fleet Manager, optimizing the cluster scheduling system, this cosmetics giant transformed its original traditional manual methods into a flexible automated person-to-goods solution through AMR collaboration.
When an order is received, an AMR automatically takes an empty pallet to the picking zones to work with employees on the floor fulfilling the order. After the picking is complete for that order, the AMR brings the full pallet to the shipping area while the employees remain in their zones fulfilling other orders with other AMRs continuously going through the process.
The f(x) Fleet Manager optimizes routes through an AI algorithm and directs the workflows. Picking rates drastically improve by having each person work with multiple AMRs and each AMR work with multiple people. An employee’s time is no longer spent on traversing the warehouse, and instead is spent cooperating with AMRs that meet them in their respective picking zones.
The AMRs are also incredibly flexible and scalable to cope with order surges brought on by shopping holidays or product promotions. The size of an order in regards to weight, doesn’t slow down operations when an AMR is the one hauling an order through the warehouse.
Through human-machine collaboration, production has increased by more than 40%, and the labor intensity has been significantly reduced resulting in about 43% savings in labor costs and a large reduction in personnel turnover.
AMRs must work in the same environment with people, carts, pallets, and manual forklifts while hauling thousands of pounds. In most warehouses, several operation methods exist simultaneously, and paths are often crossed. Safety is of the upmost importance when considering an automation solution.
ForwardX AMRs use a variety of sensors and cameras to realize 360° obstacle detection and avoidance while also being able to perceive the environment and identify moving and static objects or people. The AMR control system can instruct the AMRs to use different obstacle avoidance strategies based on the type of obstacles encountered.
The internal safety department of the cosmetics company conducted several comprehensive safety tests on the software and hardware behind the solution. In addition, a professional third-party safety certification body came onsite to test the AMRs. ForwardX’s AMRs successfully passed the various internal and third-party tests to ensure safe operations where humans and machines work together.
Fast Deployment and Cost Savings
ForwardX’s flexible person-to-goods picking solution adapts to its environment, instead of the other way around. For most automation solutions, a warehouse needs to rearrange, rebuild, or even build a new warehouse around the automation design. With ForwardX AMRs, no remodeling is required. This makes for rapid deployment with zero downtime in operations and zero hidden costs to consumers. Opting for the Robots as a Service (RaaS) model has an ROI of just 5–9 months.
In addition, ForwardX’s solution is scalable to meet demand spikes in peak seasons or during product promotions. The warehouse can increase or decrease the number of AMRs quickly to match the daily order volume at any given time.
Precision and Accuracy
ForwardX’s software and hardware seamlessly connect with existing APR/WMS/MES systems in the warehouse. f(x) Fleet Manager’s cluster scheduling organizes orders according to multiple different strategies and intelligently assigns tasks to the AMR fleet with the capability of commanding up to 200 AMRs at once.
Prompts are given to pickers via handhelds and/or on the AMR screen to guide workflows and simplify the process for employees. A picker selects the nearest AMR to receive a task and complete each pick. At the same time, they print and paste the label and confirm each pick on the spot, leading to much higher accuracy.
f(x) Fleet Manager also generates digital reports based on KPIs that the customer is most interested in. With a user-friendly UI, decision makers can monitor every aspect of the process from the progress of an on-site order, UPH per picker, top performing personnel, to an electronic map of the floor and real-time AMR location information. These digital displays provide reliable, actionable information for further improvement of production efficiency.
Based on the results of the pilot project with ForwardX and the well-known cosmetics company, both sides are getting ready to start follow-up projects and significantly scale up the current project.
The cooperation with the world’s largest cosmetics company has given ForwardX even more credibility and proof of the results that can be achieved. This scenario is not limited to the beauty industry as it can be easily replicated in other industries using similar storage and picking workflows on beam shelves.
Whether due to COVID-19 or other factors, the warehousing industry is facing a variety of substantial challenges in today’s market. From inventory records and labor costs to employee retention rate, customer experience, and more, it’s imperative for companies to find solutions in order to stay relevant. Market demand has accelerated technological innovation, and AMRs are the latest, most flexible solution available, addressing multiple pain points at once.
ForwardX’s flexible person-to-goods solution has been the light at the end of the tunnel for many of the world’s leading companies such as TCL; JD.com; DHL partner, SF Supply Chain China; Toyoda Gosei; and more. Asia’s No. 1 person-to-goods solution provider will continue innovating and helping customers gain a new momentum in the market while providing better performance and a better value.
About ForwardX Robotics
ForwardX Robotics is a global technology leader in the fields of AI and Robotics. Through its flexible automation platform comprising of intelligent mobile robots and AI-enabled software, ForwardX delivers material handling solutions for warehousing and manufacturing facilities that offer better performance at better value. The company is comprised of over 250 members hailing from top universities and leading enterprises around the world. As shown by its 100+ patents granted, along with its award-winning research work, such as 2 1st-Place Prizes at TRECVID and the 1st-Place Prize at IEEE’s VOT-RT, ForwardX’s team boasts some of the world’s top computer vision scientists and robotics experts.
With offices in China, Japan, and the US, along with partnerships around the globe, ForwardX is expanding and applying its proven solutions to warehouses and manufacturers worldwide. For more information, visit www.forwardx.com.