Collaborative Mobile Robots in an Ingram Micro Warehouse

7 ways Ingram Micro prepared for a 10x increase in order volume

Lauren Koppelman Last Updated: June 23rd, 2020

An Ingram Micro building at night.Ingram Micro Commerce & Lifecycle Services is a global supply chain solution provider with clients across a wide range of industries. Services include direct-to-consumer and B2B fulfillment, dropship and returns management, IT asset disposition, re-marketing, distribution and more.

In a recent interview with Collaborative Robotics Trends, Glen Sutton, senior vice president for the Americas at Ingram Micro, shared that manual picking carts had been used in one of Ingram Micro’s B2C operations for a retail customer with more than 40,000 SKUs. “This used a significant amount of storage space spread across a large facility,” he said. “With that profile and proliferation of SKUs, there was a lot of movement, and without robotic conveyance, a lot of people moving from Point A to Point B.”

As the 2019 holiday season approached, analysts at Ingram Micro Commerce & Lifecycle Services forecasted a 10x increase in order volume between Black Friday and Christmas Day. They collaborated with 6 River Systems to design a fulfillment solution that would allow them the flexibility necessary to handle large fluctuations in order volume. Reflecting on the effectiveness of the solution, Sutton said, “As we scaled up for deployment in August, we saw sizable increases in productivity that were better than anticipated. Because of the quick learning curve, we needed less labor for the holiday rush than expected.”

Here are 7 ways that Ingram Micro Commerce & Lifecycle Services prepared to meet a 10x holiday peak.

1. Smart Batching

After struggling with a sprawling order pool requiring associates to cover an exhausting distance throughout their shifts, Ingram Micro engaged with 6 River Systems to automate the most taxing elements of their fulfillment work. The solution they designed included continuous, cloud-based batching to optimize across discrete, singles and batched picking jobs. (Learn more: What is batch picking?)

By batching orders with the same SKUs, associates visited the same location less often, opting to sort batched orders at 6RS Mobile Sort or Packout stations rather than in the picking aisles. This reduced in-aisle congestion and dramatically increased throughput rates.

2. Collaborative Mobile Robotics

Collaborative Mobile Robots in an Ingram Micro Warehouse

Collaborative Mobile Robots – Chucks – wait at meeting points for pickers to begin their shifts.

Ingram Micro welcomed a fleet of collaborative mobile robots into their DC: a base-level fleet of Chuck robots that they purchased and an expansion fleet of short-term rentals. The collaborative robots are driven by 6RS’s intelligent allocation software, which integrates with Ingram Micro’s WMS and optimizes site performance.

6RS’s smart allocation system optimizes pick density and pick paths, supports multiple picking methodologies simultaneously and results in faster, more accurate work. The robots direct work, keeping associates engaged and on task, and support multiple take-off options by autonomously transporting some totes to sort walls and others directly to packout stations.

3. Flexible Sortation Systems

Ingram Micro used Mobile Sort kiosks to manage high-volume days.

Ingram Micro’s retail DC houses 40,000 SKUs and fulfills a high volume of multi-line, single unit (MLSU) orders (think: one shirt in blue, size small; one shirt in blue, size medium, etc.).

The DC installed Mobile Sort, 6 River Systems’ flexible sortation system that allows sort walls to pop up when volume and order profile demands. In other words, on days where there was high order volume, the sort walls were put to use. On lower-volume days, the Mobile Sort kiosks could be stored and orders went straight to packout. The flexible sortation system pairs with smart batching and supports the collation of batch-picked items into MLSU packages.

4. Smart Packout Process

Two 6RS employees – Rivs – help out at the Packout stations during Peak 2019 at Ingram Micro.

Using 6 River Systems’ Packout kiosk, associates are directed through the packing process, ensuring near-perfect order accuracy and improving productivity. The system can be used in conjunction with Mobile Sort or on its own, depending on the order volume of the day at their site.

5. Autobagger Integration

Ingram Micro recognized that the light plastic packaging most often used in retail fulfillment was great at protecting garments during the shipping process, but the bags are staticky, delicate and flimsy: human hands are very bad at manipulating them. Instead, the operating team integrated 6RS’s Packout kiosk with an existing autobagger system to ensure the time-saver remained in use.

6. Advanced Analytics

Real-time analytics visible on the warehouse floor

Ingram Micro integrated a 6RS data dashboard into the Recon team’s comms board.

6 River Systems provides detailed operational views and insights, empowering operators to optimize productivity and SLA compliance. Using the data points from Chucks, Mobile Sort and Packout, the operators at Ingram Micro were able to make informed decisions about labor, picking methodology and forecasting. Insights into their operation’s key performance indicators allowed them to prepare for even the most challenging days leading up to Christmas Day 2019.

7. Peak Support from 6 River Systems

A team of Rivs at Ingram Micro’s distribution center.

6 River Systems offers comprehensive support for all of our customer sites experiencing seasonal peaks. Working with a dedicated team from 6 River Systems, Ingram Micro developed accurate labor planning, streamlined training and maintained optimal performance through expert on-site software and hardware support.

Learn More

Whether your operation is bracing for Q4 or feeling peak has already hit, get ideas for how your DC can prepare: learn how Ingram Micro prepared their retail distribution center for 10x peak volume last holiday season at our next Future of Fulfillment webinar on June 18 at 1:00 PM ET.