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Gap rushes in more robots to warehouses to solve virus disruption

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U.S. apparel chain Gap Inc is speeding up its rollout of warehouse robots for assembling online orders so it can limit human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, the company told Reuters.

Gap reached a deal early this year to more than triple the number of item-picking robots it uses to 106 by the fall. Then the pandemic struck North America, forcing the company to close all its stores in the region, including those of Banana Republic, Old Navy and other brands. Meanwhile, its warehouses faced more web orders and fewer staff to fulfill them because of social distancing rules Gap had put in place.

“We could not get as many people in our distribution centers safely,” said Kevin Kuntz, Gap’s senior vice president of global logistics fulfillment. So he called up Kindred AI, the vendor that sells the machines, to ask: “Can you get them here earlier?”

Sourcing parts in time for the eight-foot-tall robotic stations was not simple or cheap, said Kindred’s Chief Operating Officer Marin Tchakarov. But the venture-backed startup was able to deploy 10 of them to Gap’s warehouse near Nashville, Tennessee and 20 near Columbus, Ohio, with plans to finish the rollout to four of Gap’s five U.S. facilities by July, months ahead of schedule, he said.

Each machine handles work typically performed by four people, Kuntz said. Neither the deal to triple the number of robots, nor the expedited installations, have been previously reported.

REPUBLISHED from Reuters

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