Zeek Logistics is a Canadian-based third party logistics firm (3PL) operating an e-commerce and wholesale trade dental and PPE supplies operation in Windsor Mill, Maryland.
The AutoStore system has been designed to allow for significant growth in volume and expansion of 3PL warehousing and fulfillment services to additional clients.
Andy Michaels, the Senior Product Manager at KPI; Jason Harbor, the Warehouse Manager for Zeek Logistics; Dick Hutson, the System Sales Account Executive for KPI, and Jim Kuecker, the Chief Commercial Officer of KPI, were all interviewed about the development.
Zeek Logistics used to pick my paper: so they would walk up and down aisles picking orders by paper. AutoStore now brings the product to them instead of them going to the product, so it makes the pick rates much more efficient.
Seeing that technology work… it makes the pick and pack process so simple that it’s almost foolproof. It was nice to see. I wish I’d used it 15 years ago.
AutoStore is an automatic storage and retrieval system that reduces traditional warehouse storage facilities like rack storage into about 30-40% of the square footage.
It’s a cube-based system. There’s no wasted space. It’s all bins and accessed from the top, and then bins are delivered to ports. The overhang here gives us a lot of density of how many ports we can put on the one side, and then allows all the robots to service those ports. The future of automation is not about eliminating or taking away jobs; it’s about making the labor force that you do have more efficient to be able to get the work done.
“The future of automation is not about eliminating or taking away jobs; it’s about making the labor force that you do have more efficient to be able to get the work done.”
People aren’t walking around trying to find these locations, getting tired throughout the day. They’re just staying in a general box. It keeps them moving faster, and just helps us get more out the door quicker. [It’s a] fairly easy process. I mean, there’s always learning with new technology, but overall it’s pretty simple and quick to learn.
The process for this building is, they receive product off a trailer. Usually it’s a container or a live unload. They remove it from the trailer [and] stage it in front of a receiving area.
In the receiving area, we open all those packages, count it, receive it, indicate it, put it in a bin, and move it towards the AutoStore for put-away. Once it’s in AutoStore it’s available to be used to fulfill orders, so the software again gets its orders from the host system, then allocates that inventory by bin. AutoStore prepares the bins, and then those orders become part of a batch. A group of orders gets registered at a port, and the bins with the right inventory and quantities are delivered in front of the operator for that order selection.
And then the operator takes them out of the bin [and] puts them in an outbound tote. Once that tote is complete with all the items for the order, it travels to an outbound area for packing. At packing, a person takes the appropriate box size for the order, packs it, puts dunage in it, puts the ship label on it, passes it down on a conveyor, and then it gets sealed, and then a person takes it from the conveyor and puts it on a trailer.
What’s unique about this system is, it’s a vertical storage: so there’s bins stacked on bins, and there’s robots that run around the top to pick the bins that are needed to fulfill an order; versus traditional ISRS systems. So this is just a much denser system with less mechanical equipment, which means less downtime.
We do an assessment on every customer, and when we started this I bet we ran 10-15 different simulations to find out the optimal layout for the robots themselves.
“It’s the relentless pursuit of the right solution.”
A project engineer and electrical engineer, controls engineer, we all get together with the project engineer (myself) and design the system to make sure it’s going to meet their needs.
We focus on a design/build philosophy, where we do everything using all of our resources coupled and partnered with the customers’ resources to create the best possible solution, and we do it open-book so that we can adjust to the best vendors and the best pricing and the best solution all along the way through the process.
For me, it’s more about the people. People make it happen. It’s our culture. You look at our mission statement, our purpose: it’s the relentless pursuit of the right solution. I think that’s really what we do for our customers. I think that’s what our customers want. That’s why they come to us. So you’ve got to understand the customer’s business. And when you do that, you’re going to end up providing the right solution.