Tech

Carhartt partners with robotics firm to automate fulfillment services

Carhartt was previously running roughly 60–70 units per hour with humans. Now that figure is almost 180 units per hour.
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Locus Robotics

· 3 min read

Carhartt wants to boost innovation and technology for its consumer-facing operations. But the company is also reimagining how it functions on the back end.

The workwear brand recently automated a facility just outside Columbus, Ohio, with the help of Locus Robotics, a Massachusetts-based firm. Third-party logistics company DHL is a client of Locus and does end-to-end fulfillment for Carhartt across its retail, wholesale, and e-commerce businesses.

Carhartt has seen growth over the past several years, and in April, announced a new chief information officer who’s focused on overcoming supply-chain challenges for the Michigan-based company. The partnership with Locus Robotics via DHL offers a peek into how Carhartt is using automation to optimize the supply chain for its 35 branded stores and 5,400 employees this holiday shopping season.

Locus’s fleet of robots deployed at the facility has automated all of Carhartt’s checking and replenishment functions, and CEO Rick Faulk says Carhartt is seeing significant productivity gains, which is measured in the number of units moved per hour. Carhartt’s SKU count at the Columbus facility expanded greatly and the company also needed faster order shipments.

  • Carhartt was previously running roughly 60–70 units per hour with humans. Now that figure is almost 180 units per hour, about a 3x increase.
  • An added benefit for Carhartt is the company can request more robots if it needs to fulfill more orders on a short turnaround.

“When humans are required to get to work in these buildings, it’s really hard to do so,” Faulk said. “Doing it with automation, we can add extra bots for seasonal peaks.”

The cynical take on automating tasks for humans is that workers lose jobs. But Faulk says that’s not the case. Now, Carhartt uses the extra labor for other functions, like packing and receiving orders and handling returns.

  • “I don’t think a worker has ever lost their job because of Locus; they always find another job within that building,” said Faulk. “We make the jobs of associates…a lot better, to be honest with you.”

Also, Faulk says that automation makes workers’ jobs easier. For example, a worker moving carts could walk anywhere between 12 and 15 miles per day, pushing carts that can weigh up to 400 pounds. With the help of the robots, Faulk says that workers now walk 80% less.

  • The robot fleets also serve as data collection devices that display in real time how a worker is performing and the layout of the building.
  • It’s a predictive labor strategy that allows Carhartt to better determine employee tasks needed to meet predicted customer demand.
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“We show them the layout of the building and how they can better slot the building based on where the order flow is, and how they can better place the labor in that building based on the look-ahead order flows,” Faulk said. “We’ll take that order queue…and tell the operators where to place the labor in that building based on the order flow that’s in the system, and they could never, ever do that before.”

The big picture: Locus, founded in 2014, has raised ~$300 million to date and plans to expand its business further. Faulk said there are 130,000 warehouses across the world that will need to be automated, including 7 billion square feet that will be built over the next four years.

  • The company’s plan is to expand globally beyond North America and Europe where the majority of its business currently resides.
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