How Cobots Improve Productivity in a Fulfillment Warehouse

Category:Technology

At DCL we believe that by investing more in automation and robotics we can better service our customers now and into the future. We were recently featured by our robotics partner, Universal Robots, in how we’re using their robotic arms and system to augment and improve our existing fulfillment processes. Read more about the DCL Universal Robots case study.

Case study highlights:

  • 500% increase in throughput on our fulfillment lines
  • 60% decrease in direct labor
  • 100% order accuracy since Fall 2019 launch
  • Ability to run 24/7

The Challenge

Over the last few years, DCL’s customers’ direct-to-consumer (DTC) business has grown exponentially. We went from an average of a few thousands DTC orders per day to more than 20,000 orders that we see today. This presented a unique challenge for our team: How do we increase productivity without sacrificing quality or increasing customer costs?

The Solution

We approached this project with an open mind. We wanted a solution that was progressive, flexible and without a high initial capital investment. We knew robotics and automation would play a critical role in the future of our business, and we wanted to find a solution that would seamlessly integrate with our existing system and process, not the other way around.

We identified Universal Robotics’ collaborative robots, also known as cobots, as a viable solution for our needs. UR’s cobots are modular and provide an open platform which allows us to implement and adapt to our unique setup and system. Our customers’ needs continue to change and our robotics systems provide the extra flexibility for years to come.

The Results

While it’s still early since we launched our first robotics system this past Fall, we’re encouraged by the initial results. We’ve identified a handful of customers to be part of our beta program and we’re currently processing several thousand orders per day using the new system.

Increased output

We’ve seen a 500% increase in our pick and pack throughput which will be critical to help us meet customer demands, especially during peak seasons. The system has been built to manage more complex order demands that require multiple picks per order across a wide array of SKUs.

Exceeding quality standards

SInce the introduction of robotics into our production environment, the quality results have been near perfect with a 99.99% order accuracy, slightly above our company wide standard of 99.80%. For the last 20 years, DCL has been ISO 9001 certified, so the rigidity of the robotics and their related processes requires adherence to an even higher level of quality standard, starting from sku setup to order ship.

Decreased labor costs

With the continued increase in labor costs in the US, DCL has been committed to find ways to mitigate these costs on behalf of our customers by investing in better, more efficient processes. What used to take five employees to operate a single fulfillment line, we’ve been able to bring that down to two with the help of our robotics system. In addition, the robots will allow us to operate around the clock without commensurate direct labor additions.

🎧 Listen how DCL's Cobots are being used

DCL’s VP of Operations talks about how cobots are being used at our facilities to increase efficiency, improve safety, and mitigate rising labor costs.

Long Term Plans

With two fully operational robotics systems at our Bay Area headquarters, our plans are to deploy several more at our other US facilities. While we don’t believe these systems are a one-size-fits-all solution, the system and hardware is malleable to adapt to different order profiles and customer needs. While the current robotics system is geared towards B2C order picking, there are other areas where we can leverage this new scanning and conveyance technology to related applications such as B2B order picking and inventory movements throughout the warehouse.

Our company goals have always remained the same: Provide our customers with best-in-class service, flexibility, and high quality operational output. We believe by investing in robotics and automation, it will help us continue to achieve those goals for years to come.