STORES Magazine - June 2008 - (Page 63)

NUTS AND BOLTS / SUPPLY CHAIN Robo Crop Latest generation of robotic solutions is making DCs more efficient BY CRAIG GUILLOT W ith the cost of technology decreasing and the need for operating efficiencies increasing, robotic solutions are becoming attractive options for retailers. From warehousing to order-picking and distribution, robots can eliminate the need for some labor, maximize distribution efficiencies and even create a more enjoyable warehouse work environment. Retailers like Walgreens, Staples and Giant Eagle are experimenting with robots as a means to streamline and maximize the efficiencies and effectiveness of their distribution channels. Offering flexibility at relatively low cost, robots are expected to play a larger part in materials-handling in the coming years. Robotic solutions have long been implemented in manufacturing and warehousing operations, but new technologies have allowed robots to become smaller and more mobile and to perform more complex operations. Woburn, Mass.-based Kiva Systems has been at the forefront of modular robotic systems that can be easily installed in warehouse environments, furnishing solutions for Staples, Walgreens and Mitch Rosenberg, vice president of marketing for Kiva, says that until recently, most robotic solutions have been expensive, bolted-down pieces of machinery that could only optimize one particular piece of the distribution process. Kiva’s Mobile Fulfillment System approach is to use simple, stand-alone robots that can provide a complete fulfillment system that stores, sorts and moves inventory on its own. Products are stored in inventory pods in the center of the WWW.STORES.ORG warehouse while operators stand at inventory stations around the perimeter of the warehouse. When an order is received, robots retrieve the appropriate pods and bring them to the worker, who picks the item and places it in the carton. When it comes to order-picking and distribution operations, robotic solu- “For a company that is growing year in and year out, adding hundreds of stores per year, the ability to have something that can grow as your business grows is a huge strategic part of staying on top.” – Mick Mountz, Kiva Systems tions can significantly increase efficiency, Rosenberg says. “Almost all of the work that costs money — the walking and waiting — is done by robots,” he says. “It is no longer a serial process. It makes the whole picking process much faster and creates lower costs per order.” Kiva systems were installed at a Walgreens distribution center in Mt. Vernon, Ill., in late 2007. Walgreens’ challenge was a common one for large retailers — keeping the shelves of so many stores stocked with so many SKUs. Using splitcase picking — a method whereby full cases of items are split and certain numbers distributed to individual stores — provides just-in-time inventory, but it can take time and money to sort at DCs. “What we have shown Walgreens and others is that using the Kiva approach to case-picking, you can actually do it with the same amount of workers and twice the number of lines per hour than they would do otherwise,” says Kiva founder and CEO Mick Mountz. Founded in 2003 as a spinoff of STORES / JUNE 2008 63 http://WWW.STORES.ORG

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of STORES Magazine - June 2008

STORES Magazine - June 2008
Executive Editor's Page
President's Page
Tesco Tests Carbon Labels
What Shoppers Think
10 Things You May Have Missed
Numbers Worth Counting
Full Price/Markdown
Retail People
Cover Story: Boom - or Bust
Green Retailing
Online Marketing
Building Traffic
Water Management
Digital Marketing
Loyalty Programs
Special Report: Taking on Teens
Supply Chain - Robo Crop
Human Resources
Supply Chain - Directory Assistance
Loeb Retail Letter
ARTS Update
Point of View
NRF News
Retail Crossword
Retail Industry Calendar
Last Laugh

STORES Magazine - June 2008