Inbound Logistics | January 2022

At Whiplash Inc., autonomous mobile robots help counter a tight labor market by supplementing the third-party logistics provider’s warehouse staff.

Saddle Creek is also in the pilot stages with robotic picking arms, particularly for kitting. “We’ve seen nice improvements in what that robotic arm can pick up,” Martin says. “In the past, it was difcult to pick up small items or certain packaging. With articial intelligence, a robotic arm can better learn how to pick up different things, almost like a child learns how to pick something up.”

retention. “Our associates come to work happier because robotics makes their lives easier,” says Martin. Raj Patel, senior director, 3PL global industry strategy, at supply chain platform provider Blue Yonder notes that he sees more and more 3PLs piloting robotics in part because of the labor shortage. Using robots instead of people to move products through the warehouse lets logistics providers assign staff to tasks with a greater degree of difculty. “In the past, if you had 10 workers, you might allocate four to moving inventory and six to picking eaches,” Patel says. “With robots, you can bring all 10 people to picking.” It makes sense because “60% of warehouse cost is in pure travel time—from receiving to putting away, packing, and shipping,” says 3PL consultant and researcher Evan Armstrong, president of Armstrong & Associates. “Using robots to travel instead of having people roam the warehouse offers a denite return on investment.”

Martin, vice president of engineering for Saddle Creek. For example, when the 3PL piloted goods-to-person autonomous mobile robots (AMR), productivity improved two to three times over traditional order picking without adding staff. The company has since expanded the technology to several facilities. “Goods-to-person robotics that drives productivity and labor savings also allows for more high-density storage so we can hold more products in existing facilities,” Martin says. AMRs are also helping 3PL Whiplash, which was recently acquired by Ryder, counter a tight labor market by supplementing its warehouse staff. “This helps us support areas where we might not be able to hire enough labor,” says Brian Weinstein, senior vice president of business development. Both Weinstein and Martin say that using robotics has contributed to a happier workforce, which helps with

Companies are also putting increased emphasis on data collection and analysis. One of them is consolidator

Consolidator 3PL RJW Logistics Group uses extensive data analysis to help its clients—product manufacturers or suppliers—make real-time inventory decisions.

170 Inbound Logistics • January 2022

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