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DCL realizes flexible automation solution with Piab’s piCOBOT® vacuum gripper on an UR 10e robot

Flexible automation solution realized with Piab's piCOBOT by UR for DCL

Looking for a flexible, easy to integrate, plug-and-play solution to handle picking and packing of items into boxes in their fulfilment center DCL Logistics based in Fremont, CA, resorted to an UR 10e robot combined with Piab’s piCOBOT® vacuum gripper.

Explosive e-commerce demand shows no signs of slowing, making third-party logistics (3PL) fulfillment centers a hot-bed for growth. “Our direct-to-consumer fulfillment solution has grown probably 20 percent year-over-year for the last five years,” says Brian Tu, Chief Revenue Officer at DCL Logistics, an omni-channel logistics company primarily servicing emerging and high-growth electronics, digitally native brands and medical technology devices through fulfillment centers in Kentucky, Los Angeles and the heart of Silicon Valley. “Our need to do direct-to-consumer fulfillment faster, at scale and cost effective has become increasingly more important.”

Labor challenges drive need for flexible automation

For a business that is traditionally manual-labor-intensive, meeting those goals is a challenge in tight labor markets. As hourly labor costs continue to rise, those costs must be offset elsewhere, and seasonal demand surges, bring additional challenges. Nearly half of DCL’s clients see significant spikes during holiday seasons, with as much as 40 percent of their sales occurring in the last two months of the year. To add flexibility, DCL has incorporated automation wherever possible, but as the company grew dramatically in recent years, the pace of automation needed to keep up.

The DCL team looked at existing robotic picking and fulfillment systems but found that none of them ideally fit the company’s needs for a flexible system that could be customized to meet clients’ requirements.

The combination of UR robot with Piab’s piCOBOT® vacuum gripper proves to be the right solution

At the ATX West tradeshow they discovered a potential solution at the Universal Robot booth and were able to deepen that initial impression at the Open-House event of the joint UR and Piab distributor Buchanan Automation, who displayed the UR robot with Piab’s piCOBOT® gripper in action. As a next step, DCL sent various boxes to Buchanan for a proof of concept trial, resulting in testifying that Piab’s piCOBOT® vacuum gripper has the capabilities to handle all sizes of boxes.

Thanks to the UR+ online platform to research and choose the right peripherals for an application and the simulator to program the robot even before it arrived, DCL was able to test the possible solution digitally prior to installation. Tested and proven certification for the piCOBOT® vacuum gripper along with the UR CAPS software – small programmes similar to mobile phone apps – make the process a plug-and-play scenario instead of having to learn the commands of the robot.

“You can actually simulate and control the forces with the interface of the UR CAP on a teach pendant,” Isaac Toscano, automation engineer at DCL Logistics, explains. “The piCOBOT® vacuum gripper has a couple of built-in functionalities that actually control force and error codes.” With the piCOBOT® gripper, the UR robot can grip the product from the shelf, but if there is a leak in the suction or it can’t grip, the built-in alerts let the application know there’s a malfunction so the team can control the errors or the reaction of the robot.

The benefits of the piCOBOT® vacuum gripper

Piab’s piCOBOT® is adaptable, powerful and light-weight. Its 97-142 mm wide gripper arms can be tilted +/- 15 degrees, providing excellent reach. The piCOBOT® vacuum gripper can be fitted with either one or two suction cups, depending on what task it is required to perform. A dedicated sense valve ensures safe operation regardless of which of these options is used and enables operators to switch between the two optional modes -single or double object picking, easily adapting the gripper when necessary.

The piCOBOT® has been carefully designed to be as small as possible. Its low build height of 69mm is another distinguishing feature particularly when there is limited space. “In addition, we have made sure that the weight of piCOBOT® is very low with just 720g,” adds Josef Karbassi, President Vacuum Automation at Piab. The low weight of the piCOBOT® vacuum gripper enables maximum payload capacity for the cobot. Powerful and strong for its size, piCOBOT® is designed to be able to lift items weighing up to 7 kg.

Application at DCL designed to run 24/7

The application includes a conveyor that accumulates boxes, aligns them and moves them into loading position. The robot picks up a product every six seconds and brings it to a scanner, then puts the product into the box. If the item is incorrect, the robot places the item in a reject bin and continues picking the next item without pausing production. The application is designed to be able to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without any human interaction.

The automated line has also been a boon for workers, Automation Engineer at DCL Logistics, Isaac Toscano, explains. “Normally in our process, we accumulate orders through the night,” he says. “When people come in in the morning to start their machines, they see that they have a variety and massive amount of orders. They are always urging us to turn on the robot and have it ready, because it takes a big load off their backs.” This is especially true during seasonal surges, such as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. On that day, the UR robot with the piCOBOT® vacuum gripper picked up to 4,400 orders in a few hours with minimal support to ensure that parts were replenished so the robot could continue to work non-stop.

500 percent efficiency increase and 50 percent labour savings

In the past, it took five people to manage a conventional manual picking process: someone in the warehouse to pick the order, someone to bring it to the line, someone to verify it, someone to kit it, and someone to pack and ship it.

“The robotic system can do within two hours what a team of five people would do in an entire day,” states Brian Tu. “The robotic systems actually save us greater than 50 percent in labor costs.” In this way, the robots address a primary concern to manage labor over time, which is crucial to the growth of DCL Logistics’ business. When a robot replaces a task that a worker was previously doing, that worker can be reallocated to other services or trained to manage and maintain the robot. During peak seasons, the robot allows the company to meet customer needs without bringing in additional staff.

3 months ROI and 100 percent order accuracy

The savings provide benefits to DCL’s customers as well, Brian Tu explains. “The robotic system that we’ve implemented allows us to offer fulfillment at lower pricing because we’re cutting out a lot of labor, enabling us to pass these cost savings on to our customers.”

Dave Tu adds, “What we’ve seen is up to a 500 percent increase in productivity by using the robot. The ROI on the robots so far has been three months.” Tu expects the time to ROI to decrease as the company integrates more robots.

As a tech-forward, 3PL provider, DCL’s competitive advantage is higher output, more efficiency, and better accuracy. As part of its differentiation, DCL Logistics has been ISO-9001-certified for 20 years, which requires that the company meets certain operational process standards. Brian Tu says, “What that means is that the robots need to maintain the same level of accuracy and even exceed current accuracy and output levels. With the UR cobot and the piCOBOT® vacuum gripper our order accuracy has increased from 99.5 percent to 100 percent.”

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About DCL Logistics

DCL Logistics is a full-service fulfillment and logistics company, providing everything from direct-to-consumer fulfillment, business-to-retail fulfillment, and other value-added services. DCL Logistics leverages its 30+ years of operational expertise and customer commitment, supporting industry pioneers ranging from startups to global brands in launching their products through a variety of sales channels. Based in the heart of Silicon Valley, the company has built a global footprint with facilities across the US and a network of global partners servicing its clients and their complex distribution requirements. With experience working with a diverse and dynamic client base in today’s on-demand world, DCL Logistics is equipped to design custom client programs and execute instant, flawless product delivery.

About Universal Robots

Universal Robots (UR) was founded in 2005 to make robot technology accessible to all by developing small, user-friendly, reasonably priced, flexible collaborative robots (cobots) that are safe to work side by side with people. Since the first cobot was launched in 2008, the company has experienced considerable growth with the user-friendly cobot now sold worldwide. The company, which is a part of Teradyne Inc., is headquartered in Odense, Denmark, and has regional offices in the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, UK, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Turkey, China, India, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Mexico. In 2019, Universal Robots had a revenue of USD 248 million. For more information, please visit  solutions.

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