Blog Posts Robotics Program to Help Drive Fulfillment Efficiency

The fleet of robots that arrived at Saddle Creek’s Fort Worth facility last month looks like something out of a science fiction movie. Gliding through the aisles with quiet efficiency, these vehicles are part of an automation and innovation project launching this spring.

The autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) will work in collaboration with Saddle Creek associates to help drive productivity efficiencies.

“The AMR implementation is a natural extension of our focus on continuous improvement and driving value for our clients,” says Tony Hollis, Director of Technology & Innovation at Saddle Creek. “We are excited about the potential for these vehicles to enhance order fulfillment operations through a powerful combination of machine vision, artificial intelligence (AI) and mobile computing.”

Autonomous Mobile Robots Increase Productivity

The robots, manufactured by Locus Robotics, stand approximately 4 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter and can carry several bins or totes for order picking. An iPad tablet mounted on each unit serves as a user interface.

When Saddle Creek’s WMS feeds orders to the system, AMRs carrying empty bins are dispatched to picking locations. Guided by machine vision, they navigate independently through the aisles, taking the smartest path through the warehouse as outlined on a 3D map.

The robots move at a brisk walking pace with a steady blue safety light to alert associates to their presence. On-board AI helps direct the unit to maneuver around obstacles such as people or forklifts.

When a robot arrives at the desired location, picking instructions appear on the iPad display. An associate picks and scans the required items and places them in the proper bin. Once the AMR’s bins are full, the unit is directed to the pack-out area.

“In many logistics operations, as much as 50 percent of an associate’s time can be spent transporting items within the facility. The AMRs will be assigned many of these transportation tasks which will allow associates to spend more time picking, thereby increasing their productivity,” Hollis explains.

The robots have greatest application in omnichannel fulfillment operations with a heavy volume of each-pick, Hollis says. Saddle Creek’s AMR project will be used to pick apparel and footwear items.

“The AMR project has generated a lot of excitement. We’ll be monitoring the performance of the technology in order to determine the viability of this application for both existing and future customers,” Hollis says.

Saddle Creek Exploring Emerging Technologies

The AMRs are just one of the technology projects in the works at Saddle Creek. Driven by the company’s lean culture, teams of engineering, IS and operations professionals are always looking for new ways to increase operational efficiency.

The Technology Lab at the company’s Lakeland, Fla., headquarters serves as an effective testing ground for new hardware, software and equipment.

“The facility allows us to study a variety of emerging technologies and automation, evaluate their functionality and determine business cases for deployment,” Hollis says. “It helps us continue to drive operational excellence and efficiency so that we can help our clients thrive and grow.”