Ontario 3PL looks to automation for a competitive edge
FROM THE NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2012 MM&D PRINT EDITION
Photos by Roger Yip
Pumpkin orange, with violet-coloured lights and white oval badges proclaiming its name—3512—a robotic drive unit rolls between the legs of a hanging garment rack pod and begins spinning in circles. As it twirls, its four-spoked metallic lifter rises, makes contact with the bottom of the pod and lifts the entire rack off the floor. Then, 3512 pivots again to face the direction it intends to travel.
With the rack carefully balanced, 3512 heads for the picking station. It travels from deep inside one of the aisles of pods filled with a variety of merchandise—including items such as emergency kits, folded paper road maps and movie DVDs—and heads toward its delivery destination. 3512 navigates by reading 2D barcode place markers stuck to the floor in a grid formation inside the robots’ enclosure.
As a safety measure, the area where the robots manufactured by Kiva Systems operate is fenced off from the rest of the warehouse. When a human crosses from the open area of the warehouse into the robots’ domain, an alarm sounds.
3512 lines up behind 3506 and waits in line until the picker, who stands at the open doorway to the cage, is ready for the items 3512 is programmed to deliver. As soon as the picker has removed the inventory necessary to fulfill the order and releases 3512, it heads back into the aisles to pick up the next pod for delivery.
To see video of Think Logistics’ Kiva robots in action click here.
Kiva Systems LLC (purchased by Internet retail giant Amazon.com in March 2012) is headquartered in North Reading, Massachusetts, but 3512, 3506 and 13 other Kiva robots aren’t rolling across DC floors in New England or Seattle. These robots, resembling mobile ottomans, are deployed in a warehouse owned and operated by Think Logistics, located outside Toronto, in Vaughan, Ontario.
Think Logistics was officially launched in October 2011, the robots were delivered in June 2012, and construction of the Think offices is still ongoing. However, its parent company, Duplium Corp in Thornhill, Ontario, has been offering 3PL and distribution fulfillment services for over 15 years.
Duplium began its life as a maker of optical computer disks, specifically floppy disks. It quickly grew beyond simply manufacturing the disks to offering services such as disk replication, printing and packaging. As technology evolved, so did Duplium. It now produces CDs, DVDs, BluRays and flash drives.
Each change in formats required Duplium to invest in new equipment, so the idea of buying new technology became familiar to the company.
Ideas about adapting to the changing marketplace also became embedded in the company’s culture, especially since Robert Hashimoto, president of both Duplium and Think, could see the writing on the wall. At some point in the future, technological advances and online content distribution would likely spell the end to the business of distributing content on physical media.
“During those years, not just in order to try to capitalize on the opportunity, but also at the request of our customers, we began to expand our service offering. Outside of the disk, we got into the procurement of print needs. We were buying all the materials for producing finished goods inventory. The last step was ‘you’ve got my finished goods, so rather than shipping it to my distributor, why can’t you just ship it to the retail store?’ So that’s where we got into the fulfilment, logistics, and supply chain space, to service our clients.”