The Ecommerce Operations Summit 2019: Summary & Sessions - April 2019

The summit at a glance

This year’s Ecommerce Operations Summit  three day event held April 9–11, 2019 in Columbus, OH. Joining me on the trip was Consultant Rachel Patel. There were several learning events offsite; where I spoke at a roundtable (Robotic Choices for the Warehouse: From Bots to Arms to Armed-Bots), the Crimson & Co team were also exhibitors and attended several sessions throughout the three day Summit.

 

The event format

The show’s format differed slightly from prior years.

  • DAY 1: Company tours (including Ascena, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ohio State, DHL and many others), followed by a pub crawl and distillery event
  • DAY 2: Roundtables, keynote, exhibition hall opens and sessions begin
  • DAY 3: Roundtables, keynote, morning sessions and conclusion

 

The top three topics I heard were

Robotics
RFID
Peak season

 

Abercrombie & Fitch warehouse tour

I attended the sold-out Abercrombie & Fitch tour. The company has a campus with DC1 and DC2 located onsite. The tour covered the direct-to-consumer facility, a recently redesigned 500-square-foot space equipped with Manhattan WMS and Dematic Material Handling Equipment.

There was moderate booth traffic on day two. Traffic was very slow during the exhibit hall on day three, although we did have some good conversations. The show was concurrent with the ProMat 2019 supply chain, manufacturing, and distribution show. According to the show Directors, this show drew 18% more Executive level leads despite a slightly lower number of overall attendees.

In the coming days, we will share information on a few of the sessions and workshops as well. Overall, the show was great for networking and touring new facilities. There’s a new layout for the exhibit hall and new location in Orlando for the summit in 2020.

 

Making robots pay for themselves

During the conference, we offered our Making robots pay for themselves whitepaper to attendees who wanted to learn more the research I had conducted with over 20 robotics vendors.

Smarter, faster, and more agile robotics technology is changing the warehousing and fulfilment industry. During a roundtable, Steve discussed the different robotic options available to companies, including:

 

  • Cobots—robots that accompany pickers around the facility
  • Arms—fixed robotic arms that can be used for induction, sorting, or packing
  • Armed bots—robots that can drive around and pick pieces or cases from a shelf

 

Many of the armed options cost around  $100k per robot, so in many places only a three shift operation will handle enough volume and generate sufficient revenue to pay for a robot in a well-run operation; however, there are lower performing sites that could benefit greatly from robotics technology.

Operations Managers need to think about robots in a new way. Too many people are looking at a one-for-one strategy, replacing a worker in an existing operation with a robot. But the real opportunity may lie in the creation of new operating models that use lots of robots, delivering a much better cost -per -unit than that provided by the one-for-one strategy.

The presentation included a fascinating video that demonstrated how robots in the United States could be operated by people in India at 1/10th the cost—a concept called telerobotics, that sparked a vibrant discussion among session participants. One participant indicated that whilst their robot was subject to more downtime than a human counterpart, they were nonetheless expanding their robot program to reduce the number of human workers their company had to recruit in order to meet peak demand.

 

-Steve Mulaik, Director, Crimson & Co North America

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