Terms such as “labor shortage” have become common place in the warehousing industry, not only in the US but around the world. If we don’t have the people to fill all the needed positions, then we need to make facilities faster, stronger, and smarter using the resources available to us. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are one of those available resources today.
While AMRs are relatively new when we compare the technology to older solutions such as conveyors, cranes, or AS/RS, they aren’t as new and untested as many might believe. AMRs have done several jobs for different companies and industries to increase productivity, including the reduction of non-value tasks as well as guiding workflows to optimize available workforce.
Minimize Travel Time to Maximize Production
Manual warehouses need to rely on their people for everything. This includes locating, picking, and transporting each piece of every order that goes through the warehouse. To locate any given object, first the worker needs to figure out where it is, then travel to its location to retrieve it, and finally to bring that piece to where it will be sorted, packaged, and shipped. But what if we could eliminate half of that work for each individual so they could spend their picking time just filling orders?
Picking up and placing an item takes seconds, transporting the item is where the bulk of a piece pickers time is spent, but it doesn’t have to be that way. AMRs can take care of the material movement so a picker can stay in or close to the piece picking area. Then, all they need to do is pick the order and place it on a mobile robot that takes care of the rest, while another AMR is ready to take its place.
ITOCHU Logistics used a ForwardX Flex solution to address the wasted time spent on transporting goods. The AMR and picker move to the pick location where the picker follows on-screen instructions and stows the goods on the AMR. After the last pick of an order is complete, the AMR moves the goods to a sorting area, while the picker moves to a nearby robot ready to start the next order.
Prior to adding AMRs, ITOCHU had an average of 150 units picked per hour (UPH) and saw its employees needing to spend almost half of their time walking long distances and checking orders. After deploying AMRs, ITOCHU reached an average UPH of 320 and virtually cut out all long walks from its operations.
Increase Productivity Through Guiding Workflows
ForwardX AMRs don’t just cut out long distance walking time, they also aid in guiding workflows to maximize productivity. When the picker is cooperating with an AMR, they don’t need to worry about the best route to the next item or cross checking their printout of an order to make sure barcodes match, then having someone else later double check that order to ensure no mistakes were made. Instead, they can follow on-screen instructions, scan the barcodes as they pick each item, and be certain they picked the right good the first time, every time.
DHL partner, SF Supply Chain, chose to implement a ForwardX Flex solution in a distribution center that measures about 7,000 square meters and handles between 800–1,000 SKUs. With the volume and variety of goods it needs to keep track of, finding the correct item and then checking that the order consumed a vast amount of valuable time that could be spent better on picking if they could be sure errors weren’t being made.
After adopting just 5 AMRs to aid in the picking for 100 stores, SF DHL saw a substantial decrease in errors and chose to quadruple its order to 20 AMRs serving nearly 400 stores. Now SF DHL benefits from a 90% error rate reduction and has increased its UPH by 3x.
Don’t Let Labor Determine Your Maximum Productivity
Labor shortages don’t have to be synonymous with lower productivity. AMRs help fulfillment and distribution centers realize their potential with the staff they already have. They decrease wasted time spent walking to and from sorting and packaging zones so pickers can spend their time productively. ForwardX AMRs assist in guiding workflows, so employees don’t have to waste time planning the best route or checking that they picked the correct item. Delegate time-wasting chores to mobile robots so your workforce can reach its potential.
Learn more about how Flex has helped others and how Flex can help you in our whitepaper: Meet ForwardX Flex.