Robots help boost warehouse automation, employee satisfaction
In the current climate, where spikes in ecommerce are experiencing record highs, it is crucial to maintain a high standard of accuracy, speed, cost-effectiveness, and safety in the warehouse. The use of automation to assist in production once performed exclusively by humans will, undoubtedly, continue to evolve. To be effective, there must be careful consideration of how technology is implemented. The best-case scenarios of success are when machines support human workers, freeing them up for higher-value work.
To that end, we are excited to announce our partnership with Locus Robotics, an early developer of autonomous mobile robotics technology in the service of improving productivity. has deployed over 150 LocusBots to assist workers in the fulfillment process.
So, how does it work?
The LocusBots are designed to work collaboratively with associates. Using autonomous navigation technology, the robots travel to pick locations and identify items for workers to pick and scan. Their presence eliminates the need for workers to push or carry carts and minimizes unproductive walking time. Integrated LIDAR and 3D vision cameras ensure that the robot easily and safely works alongside workers as it navigates the dynamic and ever-changing warehouse environment.
In addition to the robots, the Locus Management Portal—a visibility dashboard—provides instant, actionable insights for floor workers and management team members, down to the minute. The interactive maps and reports give organizations detailed views into their day-to-day operations. The dashboard displays provide insight into daily volume, hourly pick data, overall performance, pick maps, heat maps that show how “hot” each location is in relation to open picks, and monitor associate pick rates.
What are the key benefits?
The advantages of using robots in Whiplash’s warehouses are numerous and welcome. The most impressive are order-pick accuracy, increased productivity, and high SKU management capabilities. Whiplash’s average pick time has seen an improvement of 20 seconds per unit for one of their larger accounts, virtually eliminating pick errors and giving its customers added flexibility in how SKUs are managed and stored in their network of warehouses. For the end customer, this means the products they want are delivered faster, with more reliability and greater accuracy — cornerstones of customer satisfaction in today’s on-demand economy.
By leveraging a system like this, Whiplash is able to better serve customers that may have an extremely broad SKU count with a low SKU depth which turns inventory very quickly. Using this flexible and scalable automated system, Whiplash can facilitate dynamic pick locations and handle multiple SKUs in a single bin to maximize space and pick time. It all results in the ability to better serve customers in a rapidly growing direct-to-consumer e-commerce space.
Ease of training and the ability to prioritize employee safety have been especially important as well. The interface on the LocusBot automatically switches its display to reflect the specific language used by a worker, decreasing training time and increasing overall accuracy. This automation also allows Whiplash to manage the unique challenges of keeping its employees safe and socially distanced while operating 6.5 million square feet of warehouse space during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a tight labor market, this helps prioritize employee safety and have the flexibility to creatively deploy our workforce during peak e-commerce periods. This gives Whiplash customers a distinct competitive advantage they won’t find anywhere else.
What do the workers think about their new “co-workers”?
Obviously, the integration of any kind of automation that replaces any task once executed by a human worker can only be successful with employee buy-in. To date, employee satisfaction has been overwhelmingly positive—as the robots have helped reduce training time, eliminate errors and increase overall productivity—freeing employee time to do things the robots can’t do.
Starting work with LocusBots is easy and immediate—the bot can even recognize a worker’s preferred language onscreen. The Locus robots cluster orders to where workers are— traveling to where the pick is via the most efficient route, bringing the work to the worker—saving time and increasing throughput and efficiency. Workers can pick hands-free, without added hardware or scanners and minimized fatigue.
Spikes in supply chain surges—both predictable and unpredictable—are going to continue, even after things have stabilized post-COVID. Through this unprecedented business climate, Whiplash has been committed to innovation, a willingness to respond quickly (and smartly) to change, and helping our customers succeed.