Vecna Robotics today announced that it has worked with GEODIS to deploy autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, for case picking at the logistics company's Indianapolis campus. Starting late last year, the implementation “rethought” human-robot interaction, reduced inefficient travel, and doubled workflow throughput, Vecna said.
“GEODIS has been a really amazing, flexible partner with a tech-forward mindset,” said Anthony Moschella, senior vice president of product management at Vecna Robotics. “We have deployed systems together for almost four years, and both recognized a huge unmet need in the market to re-imagine the most common order-picking workflow—case picking—in a way that combines the strengths of humans and robots.”
Vecna offers self-driving forklifts, pallet trucks, pallet jacks, and tuggers, as well as its Pivotal software and 24/7/365 Command Center. The Waltham, Mass.-based company said they can help distribution, warehousing, and manufacturing organizations automate critical workflows, maximize throughput, and scale operations fast.
Case picking a challenge for automation
“Case picking in distribution centers is a massively under-served market,” Moschella told Robotics 24/7. “While companies like 6 River Systems and Locus Robotics do each and unit picking, case picking is physically demanding, mentally taxing work.”
According to Vecna Robotics’ 2022 Market Survey, 78% of midsize to large material handling operations run case-picking workflows, and it is currently the most difficult area to staff with skilled labor. At the GEODIS Indianapolis campus, workers previously manually drove a pallet jack along an order’s pick path and got on and off to load goods onto a pallet.
“Case picking is a near-universal workflow across our more than 155 warehouses in the U.S.,” stated Andy Johnston, senior director of innovation at GEODIS. “However, manual case picking is a cumbersome, inefficient, and time-consuming process that has yet to be automated outside of infrastructure-heavy solutions.”
“We knew there had to be a better way to leverage flexible automation and improve the experience for our teammates and customers,” he added. “We’re excited to have spearheaded the deployment of this first-of-its-kind innovation and our future with Vecna Robotics.”
GEODIS is a leading logistics provider specializing in supply chain optimization, freight forwarding, contract logistics, distribution and express, and road transport. With a global network spanning nearly 170 countries and more than 49,400 employees, the company generated €13.7 billion ($14.7 billion U.S.) in revenue in 2022. France-based SNCF owns GEODIS.
GEODIS gets results
Now, Vecna's pallet jack AMRs traverse the pick path while zone-based GEODIS teammates load goods onto the order pallet.
“At the beginning of a pick operation, an associate would skewer an emply pallet, and the robot would travel the route autonomously, stopping at each pick stop with workers,” Moschela explained. “By breaking the 1:1 correlation between associates and orders, they can be associated with robots.”
An add-on to Vecna's Pivotal orchestration software manages the entire system and ingests orders from the site’s warehouse management system (WMS), said Moschella. It also facilitates communication among robots and human pickers.
The new robotics use case enables GEODIS to reduce non-value-added travel for workers, increase efficiency, and improve safety by removing the need for people to step on and off pallet jacks, said Vecna.
Since deploying the Vecna robots at its Indianapolis campus, GEODIS has realized a productivity gain of more than 1.7x. In addition, the AMRs have saved 42% of labor hours compared with manual operations, allowing staffers to work in other areas.
The current GEODIS alpha site uses autonomous pallet trucks, and later deployments will feature collaborative pallet jacks, noted Moschella.
“While Vecna has no intention of entering the each-picking space, our robots could help with distribution and e-commerce fulfillment from the same facility,” he added. “The challenge facing all of these facilities is labor—most are 20% to 30% understaffed.”
Vecna Robotics to be at ProMat
Vecna Robotics will be exhibiting at Booth N7133 at ProMat in Chicago next week.
“We're excited to show pickup and dropoff operations in our 60 x 60 ft. booth, and we'll have our entire portfolio of vehicles on display, as well as Pivotal demonstrations,” said Moschella.
Moschella and Johnston will present on “How Re-engineering Workflows Will Unleash the Combined Potential of Worker and Automation in the Warehouse of Today” in Theater F of McCormick Place from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. CT on Wednesday, March 22.
“You're not always picking cases of soda, and you're not always picking chips,” Moschella said. “By looking at the entire workflow, we can determine which parts are best done by people or by robots.”
Editor's note: For more about ProMat 2023, visit Robotics 24/7's special coverage page.