Gap increases the number of robots in warehouses
American clothing chain Gap Inc is accelerating the adoption of warehouse robots to assemble online orders to limit human contact during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the beginning of the year, the Gap has increased the number of packaging robots to 106. The pandemic has swept across North America, forcing the company to close all of its stores in the region, including Banana Republic, Old Navy and other brands. Meanwhile, the company’s warehouses are facing a rise in network orders and a decrease in the number of employees supporting them due to social distancing rules imposed by Gap.
«We couldn’t safely accommodate so many people in our distribution centers», – said Kevin Koontz, Senior Vice President, Global Logistics, Gap. So he called Kindred AI, which sells cars, to ask: «Can we get them earlier?»
According to the chief operating officer of Kindred Marin Chakarov, Finding parts on-the-fly for the eight-foot-high robotic stations was difficult and expensive. But the enterprise-funded startup was able to deploy 10 of them at the Gap warehouse near Nashville, Tennessee, and 20 near Columbus, Ohio, with plans to complete deployments at four of the Gap’s five US sites by July..
According to Koontz, each machine handles a job that would normally be done by four people. Neither a deal to increase the number of robots nor an accelerated implementation have been previously reported..
The news illustrates how a pandemic could accelerate retail automation. Companies like Gap and Amazon.com Inc have long used such systems to solve various problems, for example, to move goods around warehouse sites. Various new technologies have the potential to displace humans from the cashier, packer, and picker positions that employ millions of U.S. workers, and this pandemic is giving robot suppliers a chance to shine..
This Warehouse In China Is Managed By Robots | Mach | NBC News
For example, RightHand Robotics has helped its customer Walmart Inc manage more online orders through increased use of its assembly machines, which have been deployed across multiple locations on the network, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. Walmart did not respond to requests for comment.
Vince Martinelli, The head of product and marketing, RightHand, declined to comment on the deployment, but stated: «If you have a limited number of people in a building, the last thing you want them to do is complete a simple task that can be automated.».
Amazon also relies heavily on automation to sort items unpacked by warehouse workers, and eliminates the need for staff to contact each other frequently when manual steps are required, the company said. In its warehouses, the company seeks to deploy technology more widely.
RightHand and robotics firm Berkshire Gray told Reuters they are seeing increased demand from potential retail customers, although travel restrictions and the need to limit human contact make new implementations challenging.
The interest comes as no surprise: Brookings researchers say spikes in automation often follow economic shocks, and they say this could happen as retailer sales fall..
«At these times, employers are laying off less skilled workers and replacing them with technology and highly skilled workers, which increases productivity as the recession narrows.», – according to think tank report for March.
The need to make distribution networks more efficient is likely to increase for retailers due to their financial troubles during the pandemic.
The Gap company said last month that it faced a cash shortage that forced it to borrow $ 2.25 billion. Three quarters of revenue in the last fiscal year came from more than 3,300 stores, most of which were closed for several weeks.
While the Gap retained its business in China and started opening 800 more outlets this month, its e-commerce activities have become a lifeline for sales..
The Gap Company Says It Has About 6,500 Warehouse Workers Getting Higher Wages Due To The Healthcare Crisis.
Kindred’s SORT machines help Gap collect orders.
Items from various online checkout trolleys fall into a chute and end up in a large container that is part of one of the machines. The robotic arm above then grabs each block using suction and physical gripping, scans its barcode and places it in the box. After all the items in the customer’s order have been delivered, the worker puts the box on the conveyor for packaging and delivery..
Headquartered in San Francisco, Kindred is one of several startups selling intelligent robots that aim to grab just about anything quickly and without breaking. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. retail workers are doing this, and Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos believes that technology will continue to evolve for many years before taking on this job.
Chakarov from Kindred said: «Our robotic systems never get tired. They never take breaks».
Kindred and Gap say they are committed to ensuring that technology complements workers, not replaces them. For its warehouses, Gap is still looking for new employees and possibly new machines..
«Should we do even more? – asks Kunz. – How fast can Kindred build these machines?»