Like many of its industry peers, Canada-based National Logistics Services (NLS), a fashion, footwear and activewear logistics provider, is prone to peaks in volume across its distribution network. The company often shifts labor between sites — at times staffing upwards of 300 additional temporary workers in one building — to help meet demand from its retail customers and a growing group of direct-to-consumer brands.
NLS wanted to introduce a flexible automation solution to minimize training time, improve pick accuracy, adapt to demand spikes and boost the overall performance and efficiency of its fluctuating labor force. The logistics provider partnered with warehouse automation company 6 River Systems to deploy a fleet of collaborative mobile robots called “Chucks”.
Fleet of Bots
After a collaborative mapping of warehouse processes and physical space, NLS deployed 27 Chucks in three of its distribution centers — with plans to prepare additional sites to receive any number of bots at a moment's notice. This was a key capability: If one site was seeing increased demand, then NLS could quickly relocate Chucks via truck. For holiday volumes, the company rents an additional 15 bots.
The solution’s flexibility enabled NLS to customize its fleet to best support the needs of warehouse associates at any operation, without any changes to infrastructure or layout. Equipped with 6 River Systems artificial intelligence, the Chucks’ advanced software complemented an existing warehouse management system (WMS) by managing order allocation and optimizing response to demand. An intuitive user interface enabled NLS to train new associates in under an hour.
Training seasonal staff “has never been easier,” the company says.
Business volume at NLS has doubled since employing its Chucks in 2018. Meanwhile, the company was able to triple its throughput by allocating robots between warehouses to meet peaks in demand.
When order volume exploded with the COVID-19 pandemic, new hires were ready to perform quickly — reaching 80% full-time equivalent (FTE) within one shift. Other employees report reduced physical strain and an easier picking process compared with a manual cart.
Beyond a day-to-day relationship as a customer and vendor, NLS and 6 River Systems have developed a strategic partnership, too: NLS provides ongoing feedback for software and hardware improvements, as well as new technology prototypes.
Overall, NLS has seen a 58% improvement in pick productivity — a crucial advantage for what could be the industry’s most challenging season yet.
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