How Crocs used robots to rule the comfort economy | ZDNet

Over the last year, Crocs emerged as a stay-at-home comfort essential and experienced unprecedented demand. As a result, the company quickly outgrew their distribution center and moved their e-commerce fulfillment into a larger pop-up warehouse. Included in the design was a recommendation to bring in automation to improve throughput, mitigate the risk of labor challenges and optimize capacity. 

That’s where the robots, and in particular the automation solutions of a firm called 6 River Systems (6RS), come in. 

Since implementing 6RS’ wall-to-wall fulfillment solution, including its collaborative mobile robot Chuck, Crocs has seen a 182% pick rate improvement. This increase in throughput was critical during the 2020 holiday peak season, and allowed Crocs to handle up to 4ok units per day, ensuring they were meeting heightened customer expectations.

Robots have become essential to scaling, and the solutions can now be brought online with unprecedented speed and minimal downtime. I spoke with Jerome Dubois, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of 6RS, to learn more about why warehouse automation was an essential component to scaling Crocs’ fulfillment operation and what the future holds for operations optimization.

GN: The setup and integration in the Crocs case seems quick. How does 6RS prioritize reducing downtime and how is it possible the automation solution is up and running so quickly?

Jerome Dubois: Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Crocs has quickly become a comfort essential while most daily activities have been confined to our homes. As a result, their ecommerce demand took off in 2020 beyond the retailer’s expectations, and Crocs realized the need for a second distribution center to fulfill this heightened demand. 

The Crocs’ team tapped our wall-to-wall fulfillment solution, powered by our autonomous mobile robot (AMR) Chuck, to help support fulfillment operations. Chuck is a collaborative mobile robot that uses machine learning and AI to guide associates through their work zones to help them minimize walking, stay on task and work more efficiently. Chuck, along with our cloud-based software and partner integrations, supports the entire fulfillment process. 

The full design, integration and deployment for Crocs was completed in under 3 months just before holiday peak 2020. When go-live took place in early October 2020, the site ramped from first pick to full volume in just two days. 

To achieve this, our team has an extensive, collaborative planning stage for any deployment. We develop a detailed plan before hitting the ground, which includes warehouse design and mapping, clear business objectives and a roadmap for achieving them. When designing a warehouse plan, every decision can have a significant impact on operational efficiency. Once a clear plan is in place that is tailored to that warehouse, implementation is usually quick and seamless. This timeline is fairly typical for our implementations as we prioritize our clients’ time and help them achieve results as quickly as possible.

GN: What’s the sweet spot for 6RS in terms of manufacturing capacity and ROI. In other words, at what size would implementation start to make sense?

Jerome Dubois: In most cases, 6 River Systems can accommodate several different capacities due to the flexibility that our wall-to-wall fulfillment system provides. The system allows for Chucks to be added or removed based on demand and available labor. The solution can be used in all put-away, picking, counting, replenishment and sorting tasks, helping associates work faster while also reducing picking errors. The power of our solution really shows in warehouses over 20,000 square feet that average a unit volume greater than 15,000 per day. These warehouses typically have over 5,000 SKUs with associates picking for at least 8 hours per day. On average, customers of all sizes improve pick rates by 2-3x and see ROI in less than a year.

GN: Are there other customers you can speak about publicly that might resonate with readers?

Jerome Dubois: One of our customers that might resonate with readers is Office Depot, a household name in the office supply space and one of the largest suppliers in the U.S. When Office Depot’s demand began shifting across e-commerce, B2B and retail, Office Depot found itself fulfilling more customer orders that contain fewer items per package. The company turned to 6 River Systems to help address the challenges of increased order volume and varied consumer purchasing behaviors by implementing Chucks. As a result, Office Depot improved warehouse safety, engaged and rallied its staff, reduced needless walking and sped up training with 6RS and Chuck. They eliminated warehouse injuries by 100% and reduced associate training time down to just one day. Full case study here.



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