Office Depot improves safety and energizes workforce with collaborative robots

Major office retailer meets shifting customer demand with 6 River Systems

Innovation, commitment, winning and speed. These four values define Office Depot’s corporate culture, but they also define the business’s fulfillment operation. Office Depot is one of the largest providers of office supplies in the United States. The company ships 600,000 packages each day to customers across the U.S. in what is a mix of ecommerce, retail and B2B orders.

With demand shifting across e-commerce, B2B and retail, Office Depot is fulfilling more customer orders that contain fewer items per package. This change in order profile has unearthed challenges in the retailer’s manual cart-powered fulfillment process. The Office Depot team began to look into collaborative robots to address some of those challenges.

Office Depot prioritized the following in its search for new warehouse automation:

  • Creating a flexible fulfillment process that adapts to changing customer needs
  • Reducing ergonomic issues linked to maneuvering heavy manual carts
  • Energizing warehouse associates with easy-to-use technology
  • Ramping fulfillment capacity to meet growing consumer demand

“6 River Systems is the safest and most productive automation that we have implemented here at Office Depot.”

Bob Abbondanza 
Senior Director of Engineering and Network Design at Office Depot

“6 River Systems is the safest and most productive automation that we have implemented here at Office Depot.”

Bob Abbondanza 
Senior Director of Engineering and Network Design at Office Depot



Office Depot replaced its manual cart and pick to voice technology with 6 River Systems’ (6RS) collaborative robotic solution. The 6RS solution supports Office Depot’s ecommerce and retail store replenishment and consists of 18 collaborative autonomous robots, called “Chucks”, which use 6RS artificial intelligence to prioritize work and reduce walking. Associates use the Chucks to pick office supplies, such as pens, paper and printer ink into discrete orders for shipping.

With 6RS, the fulfillment process at Office Depot is broken down into these key steps:

System-directed induct
Associates scan into Chucks, triggering 6RS artificial intelligence to allocate orders to the robots. The AI groups orders in a manner that reduces needless walking and prioritizes work based on item location, shipping times and other configurable criteria. Associates working at induct load empty totes onto the robots and press confirm, at which point the Chucks travel on their own to a meeting point to connect with picking associates.


Zone picking with directed workflow
Associates badge into Chucks at meeting points to start the picking process. Chucks lead workers from bin to bin within a zone for hands-free directed picking. When picking on a Chuck is complete, that Chuck travels to another zone or to takeoff and associates proceed to a nearby waiting Chuck and repeat the process.

When all picks on a single Chuck are done, the Chuck travels to takeoff locations. The takeoff process directs associates to remove each completed tote and prepare orders for shipment. Once done, the Chuck travels to induct to repeat the overall process. 6RS supports two take-off locations at Office Depot, one where orders are taken off for dunnage to be applied, and another where bag shipments are packed out.


Office Depot improved warehouse safety, engaged and rallied its staff, reduced needless walking and sped up training with 6RS and Chuck.





Office Depot eliminated all injuries associated with their previous cart pick process, which required associates to push and pull heavy manual carts.

“In the past, we had ergonomic injuries related to back strain and shoulder strain and even wrist injuries,” Michelle Williams, Senior Manager of Process Engineering said. “All of those injuries have gone to zero since we’ve started using Chucks.

Associates can be trained on Chuck and performing at target rates within a day. In addition, the team has eagerly adopted the technology.

“As we embrace the technology of the 21st century, I believe this is a really good, positive step forward for Office Depot,” Michelle said. “I’ve had people on the other side of the building asking when can I come and pick on Chuck?”

Flexibility first

Office Depot knows that the landscape of fulfillment is forever changing. Adopting technology like 6RS’ flexible robotic automation is key to helping the retail giant stay competitive.

“We’ve been in business for over 25 years and have experimented with a lot of different automation, from traditional conveyer to pick to voice to other robotic technologies,” Bob Abbondanza, Senior Director of Engineering and Network Design at Office Depot said. “We chose Chuck because we are really focused on flexibility and safety within our operations.”


Why do associates like the system?

It’s because Chuck:


Optimizes the picking route to reduce walking.


Carries the totes, keeping associates hands-free.


Confirms picks and indicates which container to put items into.


Provides context specific reason codes which makes exception handling a breeze.