In a time of growth and ever-increasing demand, the need to improve the customer experience and ensure employee safety are crucial areas of concern for distribution centers everywhere. Milton CAT Inc. is the official provider of Caterpillar machines, engines, generators, technology, parts, and service in the Northeast U.S.
In fact, Caterpillar Inc. has recognized it as one of its top-performing dealerships worldwide.
Milton CAT addresses productivity, fulfillment challenges
Milford, Mass.-based Milton CAT wanted to improve the workflow at its distribution center and increase fulfillment speed, order accuracy, and operating efficiency. The company also wanted to enhance the overall customer and employee experience to improve satisfaction.
Despite already having highly-efficient processes for its fast-moving inventory, Milton CAT’s “slow movers,” or infrequently ordered items, posed several productivity challenges. Stored on the opposite side of the distribution center, the slow movers required employees to walk from one side of the building to the other to deliver orders. This occurred up to 50 times per day, causing workers to devote 50% of their time on this non-value-added task.
To optimize movement, orders were often aggregated to multiple items, which caused delays that ultimately compromised the rate of order fulfillment. In addition, Milton CAT set a goal of decreasing employee injuries by establishing a safer environment for workers.
“We sought robotic AGV integration to improve customer service,” said Mike Erskine, corporate distribution manager at Milton CAT. “This was also an important opportunity to improve the employee experience and safety, which are both significant priorities for us.”
Embracing automation through robotics
That’s where Vecna Robotics‘ automated material handling solutions came into the game, replacing a manual process with a highly flexible workflow driven by robots. Vecna Robotics deployed its robotic pallet jack to act as an automated shuttling system from parts storage to the shipping area, following the rules of the road, even when pedestrians were around.
What makes the robotic pallet jack a perfect resource is that it does not require infrastructure changes to use. The autonomous pallet jack can work with existing facility infrastructure such as powered doors and static obstacles within days after a simple warehouse management system integration.
“Our pioneering automation solution delivers breakthrough performance, affordability and a rapid payback period,” said Dan Patt, CEO of Vecna Robotics. “The focus on workflow first and the ability of our robots to learn moves warehouse automation to a new level.”
The use of the new material-handling workflow has drastically improved accuracy and doubled fulfillment rates, which Milton CAT said allows it to efficiently fulfill orders as needed and minimize delays.
Warehouse personnel can now delegate work to the robot on demand, decreasing non-value-added travel by 50% per day and allowing humans to focus on value-added tasks and efficiently move a single order at a time if necessary. This teamwork highlights the benefits employees can experience when working alongside robots.
The move to automation in the distribution center allowed Milton CAT, to not just meet, but exceed its original order-fulfillment goal by an additional 20%, resulting in an instant increase in customer satisfaction.
Employees have found that they can spend more time on vital tasks that provide value as opposed to spending time walking laps around the distribution center looking for orders and duplicating repetitive tasks that robots can manage.
“We believe the success of this deployment will enable us to introduce more robotics into the process,” Erskine said. “This is our first step in our effort to increase the level of automation in our systems.”
Milton CAT is currently engaged with Vecna to expand the use of the robotic pallet truck for other applications within the facility and across its network.
Technology for a new era in material handling
Most automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and robots lack the sophistication needed in an operation such as the Milton CAT distribution center. Traditional AGVs move materials using fixed routes determined by permanent wires, magnetic strips, or sensors embedded in the floor.
Vecna Robotics’ automation solutions are powered by self-driving vehicles equipped with Vecna’s own Autonomy Stack, which includes dynamic obstacle avoidance, local decision-making capabilities, and an array of multi-modal sensors for high-confidence navigation.
These features ensure that robots work safely alongside people and manual equipment, can reroute themselves around blocked pathways, or can change course if a faster route is found.
Furthermore, Vecna Robotics‘ offerings include its Beacon service, which uses data analytics to help drive continuous workflow performance improvement. This is backed by a 24/7 operations center and enables high uptime and resilience, even in demanding operating conditions.
While other robotic solutions require both robots and humans to work together in predictable, repeatable ways that often slow down the process, Vecna Robotics said it enables robots and humans to function independently, allowing work to be done more quickly and efficiently.
The pallet truck does its job, and the human does theirs. This complementary behavior makes the most of both robot and warehouse staff, delivering productivity and the most relevant job for each.
Milton CAT’s leadership addressed its problems with smarter automation and a more efficient workforce. Working with Milton CAT, Vecna deployed robotics to enable a more empowered workforce while solving business challenges with intelligent technology.
Vecna Robotics said its robotic pallet jack and its entire fleet are designed to freely navigate dynamic manufacturing environments and configurations, making it easy for the systems to be rerouted and to meet production needs as they arise.
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