ACT Fulfillment is a California-based third-party logistics (3PL) provider. Founded in 1994, ACT’s warehousing space has grown from 15,000 square feet to 1.4 million square feet. ACT employs 600 people and services wholesale, retail and e-commerce fulfillment for major fashion brands.
ACT also provides value added services for its customers. ACT’s Ryan Cox led the project to implement 6 River Systems Chuck autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in a 40,000-square-foot picking area that has 30,000 SKUs dedicated to shoe fulfillment for retail replenishment.
Waltham, Mass.-based 6 River Systems was recently acquired by Shopify for $450 million.
ACT had multiple issues that led to its interest in cobots:
Capacity limits: In 2017, ACT wasn’t able to fulfill enough volume for its retail replenishment and ecommerce operations, and began looking for solutions to speed up production.
Process snags: ACT’s workflow prior to implementing cobots was labor intensive, with bulk pick and resorting and resegregating into order level distribution at packout. This process was very labor intensive, averaging 25 units per hour pick to ship, according to Cox.
High turnover in tight labor market: ACT faced what many warehouses face today – it struggled to keep staff. They turned temps 5 to 7 times a year, and it took weeks to train people to do bulk pool and to do the sort and segregation.
ACT had been looking for scalable automation solutions with short lead times that didn’t require significant upfront investment. Cox said a legacy system it considered would have cost $5 million, while adding 10 Chuck AMRs cost $600,000. The legacy sortation system could have taken up to one year to install, yet implementing the Chuck AMRs took just two months.
“These barriers, lead time and cost stopped us previously in progressing with automation,” he said.
The Chuck AMRs use machine learning and artificial intelligence to lead associates through their work zones to help them minimize walking, stay on task and work more efficiently. Chuck integrates with warehouse management system so it can be used in put-away, picking, counting, replenishment and sorting tasks.
With the Chuck AMRs, ACT moved to cart pick instead of bulk pool, sort and segregate. In bulk pool, there is a double pick. With cartonization in-system, the solution allowed ACT to remove the double-pick. “We wanted to streamline process with 6RS and remove as many steps as possible.”
6 River Systems also customized the Chuck AMRs by adding a third shelf and magnets to reduce the amount of time it took to apply shelf labels. Each shelf is an order in ACT’s operation, and they have a carton label on each shelf.
Results with AMRs
In three months, ACT tripled pick rates and decreased walking with pick path optimization. According to Cox, ACT sped up processing by greater than 3X, from 25 UPH to 85 UPH in-aisle picking and 72 UPH in the whole process. The ROI, Cox said, was five months.
“It reduces so much of traditional training, even language barriers,” said ACT’s Jennifer Avila. “We have a lot of people here who speak primarily Spanish, and we haven’t had any issues with people understanding the process as opposed to our traditional training methods in warehouse environments.”
To reduce in-aisle walking, ACT uses the Chuck AMRs for cartonization capabilities to induct many units and cartonize based on pick paths. The ACT team reduced in-aisle walking by 50%.
“What we do today is we allow the 6 River system to carbonize and allocate the units in a pool to optimize the pick path and allocate what’s going on each Chuck,” said Cox. “The Chucks go into the picking aisle and wait for a picker. Once a picker is available, they will follow the Chuck to each pick location, scan each unit, and verify any shortages at that time. When they’re complete, they confirm the pick is complete and walk to the next Chuck. So with the new solution, pickers stay in aisle the entire time, and the amount of units they’re processing per hour has tripled.”
ACT went from a manual pick process to one that involves hands-free scanning on the robot. Cox said doing this reduced mispicks by 90%.
“The biggest fear we had around automation was maintaining morale, and we positioned the Chucks as a tool that cohabitate with pickers,” said Cox.