UPS relies on Geekplus during automation journey

Posted by Geekplus on Jun 5, 2024 11:21:55 AM

The new normal in logistics and distribution is anything but normal. Supply chain disruptions, unpredictable customer buying patterns and an inability to find workers to fulfill orders are among the impossible-to-predict circumstances that businesses are grappling with every day.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” Brittany Caskey, VP of global sales and customer solutions at UPS Supply Chain Solutions told the crowd at the Gartner Supply Chain Symposium/Xpo 2024. She joined Thomas Stearman, director of industrial engineering at UPS, and Geekplus’s Rick DeFiesta to explore the topic “How UPS lets robots do the heavy lifting and people do the problem solving.”

She continued: “In our world, we try to always be ready even when you can’t predict and be proactive with your business.”

UPS Supply Chain Solutions, which has been in warehouse and distribution for more than 30 years, is in the midst of a large push toward automation in its 35 million square feet of warehouse space globally. UPS SCS has been working with Geekplus to automate North American facilities for the past few years. The most recent project is the UPS Velocity facility in Louisville

Warehouse automation helps employees

gartnerFor UPS SCS, automation is first of all about simplifying the fulfillment process for employees. With Geekplus, employees can use the intuitive UI in their native language, allowing UPS SCS to be more diverse in their hiring. From a business perspective, automation allows the 3PL to easily scale up for customers that need extra capacity, moving employees to facilities where they are needed the most without being retrained. Before, moving between warehouses and different customers might have meant introducing employees to completely different processes and workflows. Geekplus robots enable employees to hit the ground running versus spending time to be retrained and possibly never achieving peak productivity due to the new environment.

“We’ve found that employees really enjoy working with automation,” Stearman said. “People kind of brag about it, … and we’ve seen a decrease in employee turnover.”

Both of them are quite clear that warehouse automation does not reduce jobs. Rather, it helps make employees happier and want to come to work; order pickers no longer routinely work overtime on weekends. This happiness factor also brings an uptick in quality. Automation has brought about an improvement in order-pick accuracy, she said.

Clients handle growth quickly with order fulfillment robots

Automation allows UPS SCS to be more flexible and do more, respond better to customer profile changes.

“During COVID," Stearman said, “a lot of customers went from a B2B profile to a strictly B2C profile, and having automation like Geekplus allows us to adapt to that quickly.”

Warehouse automation also helps UPS SCS deal with customer growth. Stearman told the audience about a customer that needed 50-percent more capacity. Immediately. In a six-week period, his team brought in additional Geekplus QR-based robots and racks to meet that need. With other warehouse automation providers, he said, something like that could have taken anywhere from 6 to 18 months.

“With a system like Geekplus, instead of bolting a lot of things to the ground, we’re able to essentially add a few more stickers on the floor,” he said, “and something that would take other automation vendors months to do, we’re able to do in a matter of weeks.”

This flexibility and scalability are why UPS SCS is in the process of replacing bolted-down, fixed automation with flexible Goods-to-Person systems. Caskey provided examples of one customer who hit year-three volumes in the first year, necessitating higher system throughput; another hit year-three on-hand inventory in the first six months, and this required more storage.

“Had we relied really heavily on racking and conveyance and things that were not able to be taken down and redesigned, we would have really struggled to keep up with the demands of the business,” she said.

Another UPS SCS customer is featured often on a TV show. You already know what that means! If something gets worn on an episode, an increase in order activity the next day follows like clockwork.

“This technology really allows us to adjust and scale and be flexible to the needs of the business,” she said.


Geekplus robots help fuel UPS Velocity

The fully automated Velocity facility boasts Geek Shelf-to-Person and PopPick solutions to handle variable sizes of product. There are now 50 PopPicks in the space, but UPS SCS went live with only two, starting to move product even as the company finished construction of the space.

The warehouse marks a drastic change from how UPS SCS used to operate warehouses. In the past, every customer had their own “plot of land” in the warehouse with unique storage infrastructures and processing spaces, Caskey said. Employees were trained on different operating systems, different workflows and processes. Velocity is true multi-client design with multiple customers sharing inventory space, with each brand having its own set of pack out stations.

“It gives everyone the opportunity, whether you’re a big customer or a small customer, to leverage the solutions that we have there,” she said. “We feel like this is revolutionizing third party fulfillment.”

Geekplus is a one-stop shop for order fulfillment automation, enabling a range of reliable and innovative mobile robotics solutions fit to evolving order fulfillment needs. 

Topics: warehouse automation, 2024