Innovative robots transform supply chain
State-of-the-art technology leads to productivity and energy-efficiency gainsWednesday, November 2, 2022
Step inside Ferguson’s new Market Distribution Centers (MDCs) and see the future where robots work together, sorting and picking products in two recently opened automated distribution centers. The MDCs, located outside of Denver, in Aurora, Colorado and outside Phoenix in Chandler, Arizona, house the innovative technology running a collection of “robots” that carry out tasks within a physical grid. One supercomputer manages each robot’s action, automating the tracking, gathering, organizing and pulling of orders from thousands of bins stacked on top of one another within the facility. By way of example, the Aurora facility’s 16,000-square-foot system holds 49,000 bins and 26,000 products.
Supplementing a human workforce with the new robot technology allows distribution centers to process more orders in a shorter amount of time. That’s welcomed news for customers and businesses that rely on distribution centers for the delivery of their goods quickly and efficiently. Additionally, robots deliver energy consumption savings – helping Ferguson achieve its carbon reduction goals.
Productivity and efficiency at the forefront
With energy-conserving motors and regenerative power, each robot uses about 100 watts of power, a tenth of an average toaster, enhancing the overall energy efficiency of the MDC.
“The robots work all day and night, saving on traditional warehouse costs and allowing us to fulfill orders quickly for faster same-day product availability,” says SVP of Supply Chain Michael Jacobs. “The system also decreases manual handling of materials.”
In addition to the automation technology, the facilities were built with efficiency at the forefront. Ferguson uses a special machine to make custom boxes based on the dimensions of each product to minimize packaging waste. Each building features LED motion detector lighting systems to conserve electricity.
Will robots replace humans?
Introducing robotics in the MDCs is part of Ferguson’s overarching supply chain strategy – a combination of leading technology, great sourcing relationships and processes, and the best associates in the industry – to deliver an exceptional customer experience. The extensive network places Ferguson within 60 miles of 95% of the population.
But robots can't do everything humans can. Better than any robot, Ferguson associates are highly skilled and perform the complex tasks to meet our customers’ needs. In fact, the Chandler facility added 75 new jobs to the area and employs approximately 200 associates. So, while robots may perform some aspects of the job, there is still a need for associates in distribution centers to run the technology, focus on complex tasks and deliver quality customer service.
Ferguson plans to build two or three new MDC facilities annually over the next several years creating opportunities for jobs and innovative, sustainable practices.