Warehouse operator Christie Lites sees improved productivity, efficiency, and safety after deploying Neo, the floor scrubbing robot.

Christie Lites
The rapid growth of e-commerce and expansion of global sourcing, together with growing expectations of near-instant delivery, have created unprecedented demands on supply chains. To respond, warehouse and logistics managers must focus on productivity and efficiency improvements across their operations – including material handling, packaging, and even facilities management activities such as cleaning.

Warehouse management is hard
More and more managers are turning to automation

With an acute shortage of qualified workers in the logistics and supply chain industry, hiring personnel to keep up with demand is no longer a viable option. For warehousing operations, automation and robots are the new solution to productivity, quality and cost pressures.

In fact, this shift to automation and robotics has already begun. Warehouses across all industries and models have adopted automation at an unprecedented pace over the past five to ten years. According to a recent Warehousing and Logistics Robots Report from Tractica, the number of robots deployed in warehouses and manufacturing facilities will reach 620,000 by 2021, up from 40,000 in 2016. The 2019 Material Handling Industry Annual Report indicates that robotics and automation have the greatest potential to disrupt supply chain practices, even more so than other innovative technologies such as the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).

The rise of automation in logistics and warehouse facilities has helped companies improve productivity and reduce costs, making their operations faster and more reliable. Automation and robotics have also allowed these companies to address the chronic shortage of sup-ply chain talent by repurposing workers to focus on activities and decisions that are more valuable and complex. In fact, leading supply chain and 3PL managers across the globe have realized greater efficiency and productivity by deploying Avidbots Neo autonomous floor-scrubbing robots in their cleaning operations.

Technology is a key ingredient for success.

For Christie Lites – a leading supplier of lighting equipment for television, theater, and trade shows – the key ingredients for success are flawless logistics, teamwork and creativity – all supported by the latest, most appropriate technologies. This applies not only to the operational functions of the warehouse, but also to the facilities and maintenance functions. To this end, executives and personnel at Christie Lites are always looking for ways to improve operational efficiency, and when a company executive saw Neo in action at a major airport, they immediately recognized its potential to increase productivity in their warehouse cleaning operations.

Christie Lites recently doubled the size of their Las Vegas warehouse, from 80,000 ft2 to 160,000 ft2, making their leg-acy, walk-behind floor cleaner even less attractive from a cost and efficiency standpoint. Naturally, more space means more personnel are needed, but hiring qualified workers is one of the biggest challenges currently facing the supply chain industry. Add to this their desire to extend operating hours while reducing the need for long employee shifts – which have detrimental effects on employee well-being, such as fatigue and injury, not to mention morale – and it became evident that it was time to look at automating some of their facilities management functions.

The company already had experience with automation, using automated forklifts and racking/palletizing equipment in storage and retrieval operations. But Neo would be the first piece of fully automated equipment in their operations. One key thing they wanted in a floor scrubbing robot was that it be thoughtfully designed from the ground up – not a “retrofitted Roomba.” As a purpose-built, floor-cleaning robot – not a retrofitted ride-on or walk-behind floor scrubber – Avidbots Neo fit the bill. Christie Lites contacted Avidbots, and the process of implementing the Neo robotic floor scrub-ber at their Las Vegas warehouse began.

As a purpose-built, floor cleaning robot – not a retrofitted ride-on or walk-behind floor-scrubber – Avidbots Neo fit the bill. Christie Lites contacted Avidbots, and the process of implementing the Neo robotic floor scrubber at their Las Vegas warehouse began.

Neo Robotic Floor Scrubbers Improve Quality, Productivity and Safety

Christie Lites operates differently than traditional warehouses and distribution centers – every piece of equipment that is rented out is also returned, making their logistics even more complex than the typical one-way flow of goods in a traditional warehouse. As a result, the operation requires significant “flex space” to accommodate both inbound and outbound equipment. It’s also very rare that the warehouse is empty for cleaning – there are no slow periods when you’re servicing the showbusiness industry.

To meet the need for flexibility in cleaning operations, Neo’s intuitive touchscreen controls allow Christie Lites to choose between using the autonomous cleaning mode or doing what Dan Souwand, Vice President of Equipment, Systems and Warehousing, calls “guerilla cleaning,” or opportunistic cleaning. That is, when an area is available, facilities personnel can manually send Neo to that area to clean. And for unique cases such as Christie Lites’s, where products move around the warehouse from day-to-day and even hour-to-hour, Neo’s ability to scan its environment and update the cleaning path accordingly ensures maximum cleaning productivity and quality. Between regular, autonomous cleaning and “guerilla cleaning” sessions, Neo cleans every part of the warehouse one to two times per week.

In the Las Vegas warehouse, the number of workstations and amount of product to navigate is tremendous, not to mention both human and forklift traffic that must be avoided. With the ability to designate no-go zones (where the robot should not clean) and slow down zones (where the robot should reduce speed and proceed), Christie Lites found that Neo is perfectly designed to handle this set of challenges. Neo is safe to operate around sensitive equipment and storage materials, with the ability to detect objects as low as 16 cm (6.3 inches) from the floor. Rubber front and side safety bumpers help prevent damage if a bump or impact does occur. All of these features allow Neo to work in the challenging environment of a warehouse without compromising speed and efficiency, and, most importantly, without compromising safety.

The Benefits of Robotic Floor Cleaning Go Beyond ROI

Regardless of the industry or application, the decision to automate a process or task is always scrutinized through the lens of cost or more specifically, return on investment (ROI). This was the case with Christie Lites’s decision to use a robotic floor scrubber. Although the company sees the value in technology investments, they have to make financial sense as well.

After calculating the ROI they would get by implementing Neo, it was clear that automating the floor scrubbing part of their operation made financial sense. Another benefit of deploy-ing Neo was that Avidbots’ Command Center provides data on every clean, by every robot, in every sector; measuring and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), such as cleaning productivity and water consumption, became a simple task – something they couldn’t get from their legacy, walk-behind floor scrubber.

But, the financial analysis was just one piece of the decision. Christie Lites recognizes that their warehouses are the company’s face to the clients. Clients visit the warehouses to pick up and return lighting equipment. Having an organized and clean warehouse is not only beneficial for safety and efficiency, but it’s also a key part of the company’s marketing strategy.

As Souwand explained, “When the CEO of a production company comes in (to one of our warehouses) and sees the level of professionalism, including cleanliness, they’re more likely to want to work with us over our competitors.”

Technology is Changing the Nature of Jobs – Not Replacing Jobs.

Once Neo was delivered, Avidbots personnel made a visit to the Las Vegas warehouse to deploy the robot and map the facility. The Christie Lites personnel responsible for Neo’s operation were also trained, and within a week, Neo was doing its job. Souwand says the company was impressed with how fast the process was from purchase to im-plementation.

When asked how the staff at Christie Lites received Neo, Souwand said, “Terry (the cleaner who primarily uses Neo) has a new piece of technology that’s made his job easier.” The employees recognize that technology is changing the nature of jobs rather than replacing jobs. Neo has eliminated the need to have one person focused solely on floor cleaning. By employing Neo, Terry’s productivity has increased significantly – now he can focus on other areas or more important cleaning and maintenance projects.

Souwand also says that adding Neo to their operation has improved worker morale. Christie Lites’s staff take pride in their work areas, and they’re now keeping their areas even more clean and tidy so Neo can do its job better.