All areas of a supply chain are touched by technology, but none more so than in today’s modern warehouse. Order fulfillment is often complex and labor-intensive, requiring warehouse operations managers to push the boundaries of continuous improvement. This is more important than ever, as growing direct-to-consumer initiatives, continued labor scarcity, and COVID-19 are forcing industries to recalibrate their supply chain.
The impact on warehousing and fulfillment operations is particularly immense, including:
- More pick and pack operations and shorter order-to-ship windows, with an extreme focus on order accuracy and the end customer experience
- An ever-increasing assortment of products companies are offering their customers
- Warehouse labor costs directly related to the time it takes to pick and pack order, with travel time being the largest component
- Growing SKU proliferation, challenging speed, and order profitability
A primary goal of warehouses is to be as efficient as possible, and efficient warehouse management is achieved through optimized oversight and control of labor and space. With this in mind, Expeditors’ Solutions Engineering team took on a continuous improvement initiative to advance the picking efficiency of a high SKU, high order count operation with automation.
Warehouse automation requires significant attention to all customers and processes active in a site. As our model is to operate in a multi-client environment, we are acutely aware that optimizing one customer’s space may adversely affect spaces shared by others. After evaluating several options and technology providers, we chose to partner with 6 River Systems to deploy machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) enabled robots to improve the entire picking process.
6 River Systems is the creator of collaborative robots they call “Chucks”. The robots use AI to guide warehouse workers on the most efficient picking paths and enable the fulfillment of more than one order at a time, reducing overall order assembly times and improving accuracy.
Technology is often at the core of continuous improvement initiatives, and readily enhances capabilities to measure performance, manage and execute tasks, and improve operations. The 6 River Systems platform complements Expeditors’ core technology strategy of focusing on investments that deliver value to our customers and our operations. The robotics and SaaS-based platform deployed aligns with our existing warehouse management system features, while also offering new pick-to-light processes, optimized carton selection, in-process quality control activities, and enhanced labor management.
We believe operational excellence necessitates the studious deployment of our people, processes, and technology. It is even better when all of these items work in harmony with each other. To everyone’s delight, operating the robots has become the preferred task of many warehouse workers. Improved ergonomics, modern touch screen interfaces, and simplified processes attracted many of the new employees seeking to interact with the latest tools available in warehouse automation.