Universal Robots Delivers 500% Productivity Increase at DCL Logistics
01 THE SHORT STORY
DCL Logistics needed a flexible automation system that would integrate with existing work cell setup and accurately handle the picking and packing of items into boxes in the company’s fulfillment center. The company deployed Universal Robots’ UR10e cobot and realized 500 percent efficiency increase, 50 percent labor savings, a three months ROI, and 100 percent order accuracy.
02 THE CHALLENGE
Explosive e-commerce demand shows no signs of slowing, making third-party logistics (3PL) fulfillment centers a hot-bed for growth. “Our direct-to-consumer fulfillment solution has grown probably 20 percent year-over-year for the last five years,” says Brian Tu, Chief Revenue Officer at DCL Logistics, an omni-channel logistics company primarily servicing emerging and high-growth electronics, digitally native brands, and medical technology devices through fulfillment centers in Kentucky, Los Angeles and the heart of Silicon Valley. “Our need to do direct-to-consumer fulfillment faster, at scale and cheaper has become increasingly more important.”
For a business that is traditionally manual-labor-intensive, meeting those goals is a challenge in tight labor markets. As hourly labor costs continue to rise, those costs must be offset elsewhere, and seasonal demand surges bring additional challenges. Nearly half of DCL’s clients see significant spikes during holiday seasons, with as much as 40 percent of their sales occurring in the last two months of the year.
The DCL team looked at existing robotic picking and fulfillment systems, but found that none of them ideally fit the company’s needs for a flexible system that could be customized to meet clients’ requirements. “They were either too expensive, the ROI wasn’t there, or the application didn’t work for the customers that we service, and it didn’t have the flexibility that we were looking for,” says Dave Tu president at DCL Logistics. “So we thought, ‘Hey, why don’t we try to build it ourselves?’”
03 THE SOLUTION
DCL Logistics sent its automation team to the ATX West tradeshow in Southern California to research robotic options. The mission was to analyze which robot would best fit in DCL’s existing successful workflows, as well as the company’s environment, culture and future plans. The automation team planned to center the robot so it could pick products from two cells—one in front and one behind. With a reach of over 51 inches (1300 mm), the Universal Robots UR10 cobot stood out as one of the few that met the company’s demands.
“Universal Robots provided a solution that fit our needs,” says Brian Tu. “Also, it’s modular, so we could scale slowly and understand what we need. Number two, it was flexible in the way it was programmed so we can build and integrate into our systems very easily. And number three, it could work alongside our current workforce, and that was really important to us: making sure that the robots would augment what we’re currently doing.”
Application designed to run 24/7
The application includes a conveyor that accumulates boxes, aligns them and moves them into loading position. The robot picks up a product every six seconds and brings it to a scanner, then puts the product into the box. If the item is incorrect, the robot places the item in a reject bin and continues picking the next item without pausing production. The application is designed to be able to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without any human interaction.
The automated line has also been a boon for workers, automation engineer at DCL Logistics, Isaac Toscano, explains. “Normally in our process, we accumulate orders through the night,” he says. “When people come in in the morning to start their machines, they see that they have a variety and massive amount of orders. They are always urging us to turn on the robot and have it ready, because it takes a big load off their backs.” This is especially true during seasonal surges, such as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. On that day, the UR robot picked up to 4,400 orders in one day with just a small crew to make sure that parts were replenished so the robot could continue to work non-stop.
04 500 PERCENT EFFICIENCY INCREASE AND 50 PERCENT LABOR SAVINGS
In the past, it took five people to manage a conventional manual picking process: someone in the warehouse to pick the order, someone to bring it to the line, someone to verify it, someone to kit it, and someone to pack and ship it.
“The robotic system can do within two hours what a team of five people would do in an entire day,” states Brian Tu. “The robotic systems actually save us greater than 50 percent in labor costs.” In this way, the robots address a primary concern to manage labor over time, which is crucial to the growth of DCL Logistics’ business. When a robot replaces a task that a worker was previously doing, that worker can be reallocated to other services or trained to manage and maintain the robot. During peak seasons, the robot allows the company to meet customer needs without bringing in additional staff.
3 months ROI and 100 percent order accuracy
The savings provide benefits to DCL’s customers as well, Brian Tu explains. “The robotic system that we’ve implemented allows us to offer fulfillment at lower pricing because we’re cutting out a lot of labor, enabling us to pass these cost savings on to our customers.”
Dave Tu adds, “What we’ve seen is up to a 500 percent increase in productivity by using the robot. The ROI on the robots so far has been three months.” Tu expects the time to ROI to decrease as the company integrates more robots. As a tech-forward, 3PL, DCL’s competitive advantage is higher output, more efficiency, and better accuracy. As part of its differentiation, DCL Logistics has been ISO-9001-certified for about 20 years, which requires that the company meets certain operational process standards. Brian Tu says, “What that means is that the robots have to have the same level of accuracy and have the same if not more accuracy and output. With the UR cobot, our order accuracy has increased from 99.5 percent to 100 percent.”
05 EASY IMPLEMENTATION WITH THE HELP OF UR ACADEMY AND THE UR SIMULATOR
The DCL Logistics automation team was pleasantly surprised by how easy the UR interface and software were to use, how flexible the cobot system was to implement, and how helpful the support from UR was.
Walter Perchinumio, senior software engineer at DCL Logistics, says, “As soon as someone came out with the idea to use a robot for fulfilling orders, I was really excited. We went to the Universal Robots Academy website and tried to learn what this six-axis robot is capable of. It was like love at first sight because I like the descriptive programming, the capability.”
Perchinumio was also excited to find the free application simulator on the UR website, which provided full confidence in the team’s ability to program the system successfully. “When I saw that, it was, ‘Oh wow—Bingo! we can test everything.’ In the simulator, we saw the actual interface, so basically the first month that we worked with the robot was exclusively with the simulation, and that ended up being the deciding factor for me.”
UR+ platform provided certified peripherals
The automation team at DCL Logistics used the UR+ online platform along with the simulator to research and choose the right peripherals for the application. Tested and proven certification for every UR+ product along with the UR CAPS software make the process a plug-and-play scenario instead of having to learn the commands of the robot. DCL chose a Piab piCOBOT gripper and a DataLogic camera that can scan multiple barcodes at the same time, or scan a part number and a serial number.
Another advantage of the UR cobot is the ability to use the robot as a controller and eliminate the need for a PLC. The UR cobot comes with enough I/O ports that a separate PLC wasn’t necessary. Perchinumio was able to develop scripting code that relies on the robot to control all the conveyor movements. With the UR cobot, “It was actually an easy task,” he says.
Toscano adds, “Right now all our mechanicals—which is the scanners, the sensors, the solenoids, our security lights—they all connect to the I/O boards on the robot. The teach pendant is very friendly-user, and so is the I/O controller.”
Future plans: 10 to 20 UR cobots in conveyed system
While e-commerce is currently only about 15 percent of the retail market, it continues to grow and DCL Logistics customers want a fulfillment partner that is scalable and accurate. Dave Tu says, “We imagine over the next five to ten years that robotics as part of the DCL operation is going to be even more important. As we integrate more systems, we’re going to go from one robot system to multiple robot systems, and the vision right now is to have as many as 10 to 20 robots.”