As the man in charge of the Giant Eagle grocery chain?s warehousing operations, Larry Baldauf saw a great inefficiency in his fork-lift operators unloading pallets off the delivery trucks to take them to storage, and then returning empty for the next load.
?To me, the hauling of products in the warehouse in that way brought no value to the process,? said Mr. Baldauf, now retired from his position as senior vice president of supply chain and logistics. ?We had to find a way to eliminate this non-value-added manned travel,? he said at a presentation at the RoboBusiness Leadership Summit in Pittsburgh.
“From the time the robot is taken off the truck, it can begin saving money in two hours?Larry Baldauf, SVP Distribution and Logistics at Giant Eagle Distribution Center
While automated guided vehicles existed, they were not operationally flexible enough for the Giant Eagle warehouse environment. For that, the grocery chain turned to Seegrid, a local startup that grew out of technology developed by Carnegie Mellon University?s Robotics Institute.
Working with Seegrid, Giant Eagle was instrumental in the development of an unmanned pallet truck that transports products using vision-guided technology.
?We now have seven robots deployed at Giant Eagle. It is an out-of-the-box robot that is very easy to program,? said Michael Hasco, chief growth officer for Seegrid.
Hasco explained that it is very easy to ?train? the robot by simply first walking it through the route it is to take, load an item it is designed to transport and then push the ?go to work? button. ?It really is simple, flexible automation,? he said.
The robot is accurate to 1 centimeter and has a 360-degree field of vision.
?In a warehouse operation, 72 percent of our costs were for labor. Now we are able to get more done with less people, reassigning those individuals to other tasks to improve overall efficiencies,? said Mr. Baldauf, who added that allowing people to do other, more challenging, things was as important as the money saved.
?Our return on investment came fairly quickly. From a standpoint of being user-friendly, this is the biggest ?no-brainer? in the business. From the time the robot is taken off the truck, it can begin saving money in two hours,? said Mr. Baldauf.
In addition to the seven mobile robots working at Giant Eagle, Seegrid now has a total of 100 deployed in the field.
Mr. Baldauf said that anything that being hauled on pallets from point-to-point can benefit by the Seegrid robots. The robot can be easily programmed with additional paths, with a capacity to store up to 25 miles of path routes in its computer.