Blog Posts How Can Robots Help Scale to Meet Ecommerce Demand?

Key Takeaways

  • Saddle Creek and Locus Robotics recently discussed how autonomous mobile robots help accommodate rapid ecommerce growth in a Q&A at Home Delivery World.
  • Leveraging robots helps Saddle Creek fulfill orders two to three times faster.
  • The robots also allow the 3PL to scale for periods of high demand without adding seasonal labor.

With record ecommerce and omnichannel order volume, Saddle Creek Logistics is always looking for new technology solutions that can scale rapidly, reduce labor needs, minimize operating costs and improve service.

Recently, Saddle Creek worked with Locus Robotics to develop a flexible and efficient autonomous mobile robot (AMR) solution that helps optimize ecommerce fulfillment operations. Over the past 18 months, they’ve completed three implementations.

With the changes in the economy and the labor market, customers are looking for efficiencies and savings any way they can. We wanted a solution that could give us the desired results in a very short amount of time.”

–  Tony Hollis, Director of Technology & Innovation, Saddle Creek Logistics Services

At Home Delivery World earlier this month, Tony Hollis, Saddle Creek’s Director of Technology and Innovation, joined Brian Quigley from Locus Robotics to talk about how the robots are helping to drive operational efficiency and support business growth for Saddle Creek and its clients.

Following are excerpts from the Q&A. (Comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.)

Leveraging Robotics for Growth

BQ: What prompted your initial decision to invest in automation?

TH: As a company, we have a very rich LEAN culture. We’re always looking at continuous improvement and ways to drive efficiency and deliver value to our customers. That’s part of our DNA.

With the constraints of the current labor market, we’re exploring both conventional material handling solutions as well as new and emerging technologies. We’ve looked at a variety of options to help drive efficiency across the business, including autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

We also wanted to find a stable platform – something that would deliver a lot of value really quickly. With changes in the economy and the labor market, customers are looking for efficiencies and savings any way they can.

BQ: Can you talk about the implementations with Locus?

TH: We’ve done several successive projects in the past 18 months. We were able to get each of these solutions set up – from concept to implementation – in roughly three months. And we were able to realize a 2X increase in productivity in an eight- to 12-week timeframe.

Our first implementation was for a healthcare apparel and supplies company during the early days of COVID. Their volume skyrocketed, and we had deviations of 30 to 40 percent between forecast and actual order volume. In the first year alone, we ended up with almost a 3X increase in volume. Fortunately, we were able to address those peaks and valleys without having to add people because our associates were much more productive using the Locus platform.

BQ: What other metrics are important to Saddle Creek?

TH: Associate engagement is also critical. We spent a lot of time with our operations leadership and our HR leadership talking about why the technology was being brought in – that this was a labor augmentation. It wasn’t replacing associates.

When those volumes hit, as unexpectedly as they did, associates could see right away that weren’t walking nearly as far and they weren’t carrying things around. It made their work life easier. When I spent time out on the floor after the implementation, I had associates tell me, “I just want to pick like this. I want to use robots now.”

BQ: Everybody knows that the labor market is only getting tighter. KPI’s and SLA’s are only getting more stringent. Do you see Saddle Creek expanding automation?

TH: We try to apply technology thoughtfully. We don’t see it as a silver bullet, but we look at what the data says in terms of the customer’s business and then develop a solution based on the data.

We find, especially with ecommerce fulfillment and omnichannel, that we continually need to be more efficient to meet demand for quick deliveries and responsive service. And unless the labor market changes, we need to find creative ways to accomplish that with fewer people – whether we’re using our Lean capabilities, the Locus AMR platform, sortation, pick-to-light or other technologies that might fit a given customer operation and deliver value.

To learn more about Saddle Creek’s autonomous mobile robot implementations, watch the video.

Related to: Automation & Robotics, Controlling Costs, Fulfillment Technology, Labor Management