FIELD INTELLIGENCE: Smart Processes, Solutions & Strategies
Lockheed Martin has had robotics and automation solutions as a component of its product portfolio for longer than a decade. While these technologies have helped the company and its customers innovate in aerospace, defense and security, they were not fully integrated into Lockheed’s internal operations until recently—when its internal warehousing operations team saw an opportunity for growth.
Lockheed’s rotary and mission systems group, which provides consumables and spare parts to the U.S. Air Force, was interested in increasing productivity and improving the warehouse environment through implementation of processes and technology that assist workers with order-picking.
The group chose to implement autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to support fulfillment operations in one of its distribution centers in Oklahoma City. The AMRs they deployed work alongside the warehouse employees to assist in route- and kit-picking.
Prior to implementing the collaborative AMRs, Lockheed’s distribution center was using a tedious process in which associates picked parts to a cart using a pick list generated by their warehouse management system (WMS). This process lacked efficiency because it required employees to push a heavy cart and take long, unguided walks throughout the warehouse to find units for picking.
The AMRs eliminated this physical strain on the employees by eradicating the need for cart-pushing and by finding the most efficient walking path through the aisles. The cobots move independently thanks to sensors that scan the warehouse’s layout and detect obstacles. These sensors, in conjunction with AI algorithms, are also able to determine efficient walking routes depending on the items in an order to ensure the warehouse employee is not walking down certain aisles twice or taking the long way between picking locations. Consider these AMRs the self-driving cars of the warehousing world.
So, what drew Lockheed Martin to collaborative AMRs as opposed to other automation solutions?
- Flexible design
Collaborative AMRs are the most flexible and scalable solution because they can integrate with existing WMS and warehouse infrastructure. Lockheed has a unique WMS, and the AMRs were able to fully integrate with it to manage 100,000+ SKUs, operate in complex work environments and handle non-standardized warehouse processes. Additionally, AMRs do not rely on any external hardware, making deployment quick. Lockheed’s deployment took less than three months.
- Improved productivity
Lockheed wanted to improve order-picking productivity and efficiency. In just six weeks of AMR use, the Oklahoma City warehouse saw a 381 percent increase in lines picked per hour.
- Better working environment
Because collaborative AMRs use simple visual cues and have easy-to-use controls, employees of all levels can complete picking tasks, and language or physical limitations are no longer a barrier to entry. Most Lockheed warehouse employees have been drawn to the opportunity to work with new technologies and remain more engaged than they would have with the warehouse’s old strategies, in turn reducing turnover rates.
Perhaps most important of all, Lockheed’s return on its investment in the AMRS came in just nine months and produced an estimated $1.5 million in savings.