On Friday, January 28, 2011 the Supply Chain Association organized a visit to the Office Depot facility in Newville, PA. Our trip brought us face to face with three Penn state alumni who extended a very warm welcome and a guided tour of the facility. We received an overview of the Office Depot operations and Mr. Zelis explained how the company was in the process of consolidating its supply chain operations. This new facility setup about a year ago is catering to the entire Northeast region – Maine to Virginia – and reduces the need for a cross-dock in Mountain Top, PA and distribution centers in West Hampton, NJ, Baltimore, MD and Boston, MA. The key focus of their supply chain operations currently is to reach a high success rate of 99.3% in their next day delivery and also to convert their retail operations from a Push to a Pull process.
The most exciting part of the visit was seeing the Kiva robots in action. These robots are commissioned to fulfill the end customer orders for Office Depot, which are typically split case orders. The Kiva robots come in handy right from the inbound order station to the intermediate picking station and finally to the shipping station. The Kiva robots are designed and programmed to bring the inventory to the picking stations where the associates can pick the appropriate items to fulfill the order. The robots move based on Cartesian co-ordinates and recognize their relative positions based on Bar code stickers on the floor, which they capture using a camera. They navigate to different parts of the floor and identify the target inventory to be fetched and bring them to the picking station. They are equipped with sensors and are programmed to avoid collisions. When the inventory rack arrives at the picking station, the associate is guided by a laser and a display picture as to which product (SKU) to pick. Once the pick is confirmed, the Kiva robot moves the rack back to the original position and a next one takes its place at the station. The average time for a Kiva robot to fetch a product to the picking station is 14.4 seconds, and they definitely did seem to meet that tirelessly. Once, an order is fulfilled, the robots move the order boxes to the shipping area, where they are sealed and then sent to the sorting station, which directs these cartons to the correct loading deck. Most of us were amazed at the efficiency of these robots and that they were constantly optimizing the location of the inventory based on repeat requests for products. This meant that fast moving products were brought closer to the picking stations while the rarely demanded product moved away from the picking stations. This was a tour that we all enjoyed and one that has enriched our knowledge, tying MBA class concepts to the real world.
Please click on the link below to see a video of these robots in action:
http://db.tt/Or1Bvcp (Courtesy: WeiCai Li)
MBA Class of 2012