Blog Posts How Can Technology Address Today’s Fulfillment Challenges?
- In a recent The New Warehouse podcast, Saddle Creek’s Director of Technology and Innovation discusses robotics and automation.
- The company looks for opportunities to utilize technology to help reduce labor dependency, increase productivity and accommodate spikes in order volume.
- A variety of new and emerging technologies can help address these challenges.
Using mobile robots allowed us to accommodate dramatic fluctuations without adding staff. It was a huge home run for us.”
~ Tony Hollis, Director of Technology & Innovation, Saddle Creek Logistics Services
Over the past 12 to 18 months, there have been significant advancements in fulfillment automation and robotics. This week, Tony Hollis, Saddle Creek’s Director of Technology and Innovation, joined Kevin Lawton, the host of The New Warehouse Podcast to talk about the company’s autonomous mobile robot (AMR) implementations and other areas of innovation.
Following are excerpts from the interview. (Comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Technology and Innovation at Saddle Creek
What are your clients’ biggest pain points today?
Even before COVID hit, the biggest challenge for our customers – and the logistics industry as a whole – was labor. Identifying ways to mitigate the impact of labor cost and availability is something that we work on extensively with our customers.
With dramatic ecommerce growth, we’re looking at ways to reduce labor dependency, increase productivity and accommodate large fluctuations in demand. We take all of that into account as we look at the thoughtful application of technology to help reengineer operations.
What technologies really stand out as addressing today’s challenges head on?
Autonomous mobile robots are one of our areas of focus. We’ve partnered with Locus Robotics on several deployments.
We did an initial AMR implementation with a healthcare apparel customer. Volumes grew exponentially because of COVID. There were 30 to 40 percent swings in terms of plan to actual. And by the end of the year, we experienced nearly a 3X increase in annual volume.
Using mobile robots allowed us to accommodate dramatic fluctuations without adding staff. It was a huge home run for us. We were able to handle very challenging growth and deploy the new technology very quickly – standing up our first AMR operation in a three- to four-month timeframe.
Aside from robotics, what other technologies is Saddle Creek exploring right now?
In the near term, we’re focusing on picking robotics. We have more than five years’ experience using industrial robotics to support customers. And there are lots of advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning – picking and packing things in unstructured environments – so that’s an area we’re interested in.
Wearable technology is another area of exploration. There are more and more hands-free devices out in the market. And goods-to-person technology is another area of material handling technology that’s taken off in the past 12 to 18 months.
We try to sort through these opportunities in terms of the maturity of the technology. Can they deliver value today or in the very near term, or do they need a bit more time to incubate? And that could be six months, or it could be 12 months. I’m finding that even six months is a lot of time for a lot of these start-ups to build and enhance their capabilities.
For more of the interview, check out The New Warehouse podcast.Automation & Robotics, Controlling Costs, Fulfillment Technology, Labor Management