Business leaders at footwear company Crocs needed to find a way to meet surging demand for their products in 2020—and they needed to do it fast. The makers of the popular foam clogs faced “exploding” e-commerce demand as the pandemic hit, according to Rob Fauerbach, the company’s director of distribution and logistics. Automating its largely manual picking process would be essential to handle the growing volume and prepare for added spikes during peak holiday shipping season. Building a complex, infrastructure-heavy system would take years, so Crocs turned to robotics firm 6 River Systems and material handling system and warehousing consulting firm Sedlak to develop a long-term solution in short order.
“Heading into peak [season] of 2020, we needed to expand capacity,” Fauerbach explained during one of the first education sessions at this year’s PromatDX conference, being held online this week. Automation would help streamline the onboarding of temporary help during peak season and speed throughput at its 500,000 square-foot distribution center in Dayton, Ohio.
Representatives from Sedlak and 6 River Systems explained that Crocs required a flexible solution to scale up and down to meet demand. They chose 6 River Systems’ configurable and autonomous robotic platform, which uses AMRs called “Chucks,” and applied it to Crocs’ picking process. The AMRs are integrated into the company’s warehouse management system (WMS)—and they don’t require any new infrastructure or the need to change your warehouse layout.
The collaborative, goods-to-person system cuts down on associate travel throughout the facility by automating much of the picking process; in some cases, the Chucks travel alone, delivering products to associates in different zones throughout the warehouse. Within the zones, the Chucks lead associates through the picking process until the assigned tasks in that zone are complete. Once orders are complete, the Chucks travel autonomously to the packing area.
Jerome Dubois, co-founder and co-CEO of 6 River Systems, said the system typically reduces associate travel time by 50% and doubles productivity when compared to manual systems. And that’s exactly what happened for Crocs: Pick rates at the Dayton facility improved from 55 units per hour to 111 units per hour after implementing the AMR system. New-hire onboarding also improved: Training time went from an average of one week down to one day, according to Fauerbach.
From conception to go-live the project took about 90 days, but the on-site implementation only took about six weeks of that time, including piloting, testing, and launching the system, Fauerbach also said.
“The biggest win for us really was the timeline,” Fauerbach said.
PromatDX: 2021 takes place April 12-16 online.