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17/11/2021

Customer success: automotive parts distributor ISN boosts warehouse productivity with autonomous mobile robots

The US' largest independent automotive tool and equipment distributor reaps the benefits of AMRs in three of its warehouses. Learn more about this in the blog article below (including video).

Founded in 1985, Integrated Supply Network (ISN) has become the US’ largest independent automotive tool and equipment distributor serving resellers and professional DIYers throughout North America and the United Kingdom.

What challenges did ISN have in its warehouses?
ISN experienced tremendous growth. With this came the need to expand the size of its distribution centers, meaning a typical ISN distribution center has seen a 10x increase in size and is now over 1M square feet. This means warehouse associates need to travel longer distances to reach their picking destinations. As a result, more time is spent walking to a destination and less time is available for them to carry out picking, decreasing productivity. A highly competitive warehouse labor market with a small talent pool also meant that ISN encountered challenges attracting new talent.

How did the pandemic demand affect ISN’s warehouse operations?
Small package shipments were increasing from 50% of all orders pre-pandemic to 80% during the pandemic. This means that while the number of orders increased, the number of items per order decreased, making picking more labor-intensive. As a result, more strain is put on the workforce and throughput is negatively impacted. With the already challenging labor situation, the pandemic has further exacerbated talent acquisition and retention.

What solution was identified to help ISN with its challenges?
ISN was looking for a solution to significantly increase associate productivity to allow them to continue to pick and ship on the same day and mitigate the risk of staff turnover. Over the past ten years, ISN had already been using Körber’s warehouse management system (WMS). Looking for a technically competent partner, ISN turned to Körber and its partner Locus Robotics.
The identified autonomous mobile robots would significantly reduce travel time for workers and achieve more efficient throughput. The solution would be deployed at three of ISN’s sites – in Atlanta, Fresno and Indianapolis - with 49 Locus bots deployed for the picking process.

How quickly were the AMRs deployed and how did they improve processes at ISN?
Körber and Locus integrated and deployed the first batch of robots in just under four months in its first warehouse in Atlanta.

A scanned order prompts the robot to move through the warehouse. As it is autonomous, it will find the fastest path to the closest picking station without the need for human intervention.
Once at the picking location, the robot provides the (human) picker with information about the items that need to be picked including an image via screen. This makes the picker’s job easier to identify the correct item. The picker then scans the item and drops it into the appropriate tote. The robot continues to the next pick location.

When all picks are completed, the Locus bot moves to the packing area, where orders are offloaded. The robot is then instructed with the next picking command.

What AMR benefits is ISN experiencing?

  • As the bots have taken over travelling throughout the warehouse, the workers save time previously wasted walking from picking location to picking location. Instead, they can concentrate on picking to increase efficiency. In ISN’s case, they saw a 266% improvement in picking speeds from 30 units picks per hour (UPH) prior to the robots to 110 UPH with the use of AMRs
  • Providing pictures and information about the items that need to be picked on the bot’s screen increased picking quality and accuracy, at the same time, it reduces associate training time
  • ISN’s employees are more satisfied: Not only is work more interactive and less labor-intensive, associates also benefit from higher wages that ISN increased as a result of re-invested cost savings achieved through the use of robots
  • ISN it not replacing their human workforce but rather augmenting them, meaning associates and robots work collaboratively

Sounds interesting? Watch our video below to see the autonomous mobile robots in action and hear more from ISN what they think of them:

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