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SCDigest Expert Insight: Keep It Moving

About the Author

Marc Wulfraat


MWPVL International, Inc.

Marc Wulfraat is the president and founder of MWPVL International, a supply chain and logistics consulting firm.  Marc has 27 years of supply chain consulting experience across a variety of industry sectors and countries. His expertise is in supply chain strategy, facility design, material handling systems, automation, and supply chain execution technologies. He has managed many complex consulting mandates to help a diverse range of companies with their supply chain challenges. For more information, please visit

By Marc Wulfraat

May 23, 2016

Supply Chain Comment: Locus Robotics – An Independent Consultant's Review Part 2

The Kiva Robots were a Major Breakthrough for Eaches Picking, but Using them in Operations at Quiet Logistics Led to Ideas for Improvement

In part 1 of this column,
I described some of the history of 3PL Quiet Logistics, and how it came to need an alternative to the Kiva Robots it has used from its inception in 2009, after acquired Kiva in 2012. (See Locus Robotics – An Independent Consultant's Review Part 1.)


I also reviewed four of the eight lessons Quiet Logistics CEO Bruce Welty said the his company had learned from using the Kiva robots for ecommerce fulfillment, which ultimately led to a new approac through Welty's new company, Locus Robotics.

Wulfraat Says:

The ideal automation solution should be designed to enable productivity improvements for both inbound and outbound operations for maximum effectiveness.
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The four lessons from part 1, elucidated in more detail, were:


Lesson number 1: The ideal automation solution needs to be simple and quick to deploy and upgrade.

Lesson number 2: The ideal automation solution is equipped with vision technology that enables the robot to see any obstacles in its path so that the robot can either stop or navigate around the obstacle to prevent injury to personnel.


Lesson number 3: The ideal automation solution is designed to communicate in real time with a warehouse management system to eliminate the need for a separate "black box" warehouse control subsystem.


Lesson number 4: The ideal automation solution is designed to enable quick, easy and flexible scalability to allow the distribution center to respond to changing demand profiles and significant increases in throughput requirements.


In part two this week, I review lessons 5 through 8:


Lesson number 5: The ideal automation solution should be small and light enough to work on a free-standing or rack-supported mezzanine so that vertical space can be fully utilized within the warehouse.

To navigate around its designated area within the warehouse, Kiva relies on 2-dimensional barcodes that are positioned on the floor and act as guides. Thus the Kiva system needs to be tightly defined when it is implemented hence it is not the type of automation that can be deployed into neighboring warehouse aisles without a major effort. In other words, to expand the Kiva system involves a major project with a long lead time.

Lesson number 6: The ideal automation solution should be flexible enough to allow a new robot to be easily and quickly introduced to new and existing warehouse aisles without requiring major time delays or investment costs.

The underside of the Kiva robot is open and exposed to the floor such that dirt can accumulate inside its body. This requires frequent vacuum cleaning to remove dust, plastic bags, and other types of debris that accumulate within the body of the robot.

Columns by Marc Wulfraat

Locus Robotics - An Independent Consultant's Review Part 2

Supply Chain Comment: Locus Robotics - An Independent's Consultant Review Part 1

Keep It Moving: What Economic Impact Will the Amazon Sortation Network Have on UPS and FedEx?

Keep It Moving: The AmazonSupply Threat to the B2B Distribution Market

Supply Chain Comment: If You Thought that Amazon was a Game Changer in 2015, Hold onto your Hat

Lesson number 7: The ideal automation solution should be designed such that it can function within an industrial environment without the need for frequent cleaning.

Perhaps one of the more interesting learnings about the Kiva System is that inbound putaway labor productivity is reduced as compared to conventional labor productivity. Now this seems counter-intuitive given that the putaway process no longer involves travel time. After all, the Kiva robots transfer pods from the putaway stations into storage thereby eliminating operator travel time. How could this automated approach possibly be slower than a person manually storing the goods?

To answer this question, the use of an example works best. Let us say that an item with 50 units needs to be stored into the Kiva System. One does not simply put all 50 units onto one incoming pod. Instead, the units need to be spread across many pods so it may be required to put 5 units across 10 pods for example.

The reason for this is that the inventory needs to be spread across multiple pods is to minimize order picking dwell time. During outbound order picking operations, if multiple pick work stations require the same item at about the same time and the item is only stoked onto one pod, then there will be operator dwell time incurred since the pod must travel from order picking station to the next. Say for example that all of an item’s inventory is housed on one pod and three order pickers require the same item at the same time then 2 of the 3 pickers may incur dwell time as they wait for the pod to arrive. Dwell time must be minimized to ensure maximum productivity so the way to ensure this is to spread each item’s inventory across multiple pods.

To quantify this statement, let us say that the standard conventional putaway process involves an operator moving the goods into the warehouse and RF scan-confirming the putaway transaction to a shelf bin. If this process can be accomplished with a productivity rate of 220 units per hour then the equivalent process of putting away the same product across multiple Kiva robots results in a comparable productivity rate of 158 units per hour, roughly a 28% loss in efficiency. Of course the pick rates are better with the automated solution, but by extension putaway suffers a corresponding loss in efficiency.

Lesson number 8: The ideal automation solution should be designed to enable productivity improvements for both inbound and outbound operations for maximum effectiveness.


That should be clear enough.


So how did Welty take these lessons to design a solution similar too but different from the Kiva sytem? You can find our full white paper here: Locus Robotics – An Independent Consultant's Review of Autonomous Robots in Fulfillment Centers

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