If the robots are coming and they can double productivity in warehouses, companies may have little choice than to reconsider their reliance on human labor.
Geodis and Locus Robotics are testing a new autonomous system designed to improve warehouse productivity, decrease picking errors and combat labor strains during peak retail seasons.
The supply chain operator, a customer of Locus Robotics, teamed up with a leading women’s apparel client to pilot a collaborative picking system that uses 30 autonomous mobile robots from Locus Robotics at an Indianapolis-based warehouse. Geodis didn’t disclose the name of the apparel client, but did say its warehouse location manages more than 30,000 SKUs and was using a complex manual picking process.
The goal with the pilot is to improve warehouse productivity, streamline fulfillment operations and enable apparel retailers to adjust quickly to fluctuating market needs.
“We’re committed to innovative solutions for our customers to address industry-wide challenges,” Eric Douglas, Geodis’ executive vice president of technology and engineering, said. “The labor market is tight and we want to enable our team to better execute for our customers. And in this case, the technological support of robots effectively solved the challenge.”
First, the pilot simplified training for Geodis employees. Unlike previous training methods that involved classroom instruction, the pilot allowed employees to learn how to pick with the robots on the warehouse floor. When workers used the bots, they were able to display the robots’ messaging systems in their preferred languages, including Burmese, English and Spanish, which helped training and decreased picking errors. Geodis said using the robots to pick also helped reduce physical activity by decreasing travel time and removing the need to pull pick carts.
So far the pilot has improved warehouse productivity and streamlined new employee training. According to Geodis, robots pick 80 percent of units per day, employee productivity has doubled and there’s been at least a 50 percent reduction in training time at the warehouse.
“We are not only able to help Geodis realize immediate productivity gains, but our solution is able to scale on-demand to meet the growing future needs of their customers. Our robots enhance more than worker productivity, they improve worker job satisfaction by removing some of the more physically demanding aspects of the picking process,” said Rick Faulk, CEO at Locus Robotics. “We look forward to continuing to help the Geodis team drive operating efficiencies.”