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'It's a fight for talent…It's like'Game of Thrones' out there,' Erik Caldwell, chief operating officer for supply chain in the Americas and Asia Pacific at XPO Logistics Inc., XPO 2.83% said at an industry conference earlier this year, discussing the company's use of robots to fulfill online orders.

From Reindeer to Robots, Automation Set to Deliver This Holiday Season

“It’s a fight for talent…It’s like ‘Game of Thrones’ out there,” Erik Caldwell, chief operating officer for supply chain in the Americas and Asia Pacific at

About 16.5% of organizations across several industries including warehousing are now using commercial service robots, and 21.5% have them in pilot programs, according to a 2018 survey of 600 respondents by research firm IDC.

The holiday shopping season highlights a warehouse-worker squeeze that is driving more logistics operators to embrace automation, as the growth of online commerce pushes more retail sales from storefronts to distribution centers.

The robots, which resemble Roomba autonomous vacuum cleaners, sync up with XPO’s warehouse-management software to help workers fulfill up to 48 orders at a time, the company said.

At Gap’s distribution center complex in Gallatin, Tenn., yellow mechanical arms mounted inside six cylindrical sorting machines pick up poly-bagged items of clothing from the company’s Athleta, Banana Republic and Old Navy brands.

The SORT robot, designed by startup Kindred, uses artificial intelligence to decide which object would be best to pick, avoiding overlapping items and dropping those whose bar codes can’t be read on the first round.

“When you see a machine sitting here, this would be four people working across four shifts,” said Kevin Kuntz, Gap’s senior vice president of global logistics fulfillment.

It works all the time.” Gap still doubles or triples its usual workforce during its busy sales season, but automation including the SORT robot means it no longer has to hire six times as many workers, Mr. Kuntz said.

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With the busy holiday peak looming, retailers and logistics companies are ramping up automation as surging demand for labor outstrips the number of available workers.

Much of the technology is being used in distribution operations, where workers pulling carts or driving forklifts are increasingly working alongside machines built to keep goods moving at a rapid pace.

About 16.5 percent of organizations across several industries including warehousing are now using commercial service robots, and 21.5 percent have them in pilots, according to a 2018 survey of 600 respondents by research firm IDC.

Get to know the 20 top logistics companies in the world

Getting goods to merchants and customers involves a lot more than throwing packages on trucks and ships.

Logistics companies must carefully manage and coordinate a large number of people, technology and transportation to ensure merchants and customers receive their goods on time and in good condition.

To curate this list, we considered the number of warehouses each company operates as well as year-over-year growth from 2016 to 2017, using the Top 20 3PL Warehouses 2017: Growth amid change report from Logistics Management, as well as other factors, such as smaller companies managing to stand out and make their mark in areas like conservation and technology advancements.

They spend over $450 million dollars per year on major technology investments to continue pushing the field forward.

They proudly tout their 99% on-time delivery rate and maintain 44 million square feet of warehouse space.

DSC Logistics helps companies manage the complexities of supply chain management and helps them optimize their innate strengths to their advantage.

Saddle Creek Logistics Services gives companies access to flexible warehouse storage, synchronized inventory distribution and efficient and cost-effective transportation services.

DSV North America helps businesses side-step the complications of logistics project management by installing seamless solutions for all of the moving parts involved.

Kuehne + Nagel’s placement of its logistics offices at strategic points around the world allow it to take advantage of the global desire for goods from around the world.

Three key facts about APL Logistics North America: These growing logistics companies may not be the largest in terms of revenue or number of locations, but we think their substantial growth and achievements make them worth a mention.

While it may not be the largest logistics company overall, Barrett Distribution has grown to over 400 employees and a network of more than 3 million square feet of state-of-the-art warehousing capacity, strategically located across the US.

A privately held company, high performance teams serve more than one hundred and fifty customers in an array of industries, from fast-moving consumer goods to the highly demanding automotive parts and online retail markets.

ACT Fulfillment provides warehousing and fulfillment services including receiving, handling, shipping, and more with the goal of building relationships with customers and going above and beyond what’s offered by other third-party distribution and fulfillment warehouses.

More Industrial Automation, Robots and Unmanned Vehicles Resources

Locus Roboticsis an autonomous warehouse robotics company to support critical e-commerce fulfillment operations for retailers and 3PL providers.

Because Quiet needed robots in order to honor contracts with customers (in terms of volume, throughput, costs and service level), we decided to build our own robotics solution.

Given that our team has almost five years of experience working with the Kiva solution, we understand, first-hand, how robots work in the warehouse and interact with workers.

Plus, our historical business automating warehouses has given us great insight into how warehouses work, so that we can address the real challenges of fulfilling millions of orders accurately and quickly.

Our robots are built to work collaboratively with humans, taking over the arduous, inefficient tasks, like walking and locating inventory, and allowing humans to focus on the work that they do best: the actual picking and packing of orders.

We address the most challenging aspects of fulfillment operations, which are staffing for growth and peaks, managing labor costs, and fulfilling orders quickly.

Most workers can learn the system in about 10 minutes with some additional training required for supervisors and leads that need to manage the operations.

We do not expect clients to experience a decrease in staff, but an increase in efficiencies that enable to better handle the increasing e-commerce order volumes without the need to add incremental personal.

My view is that companies (1) start with a problem that is suited to be solved by a robotic solution, then (2) design and build a robot that solves that problem and finally (3) build a business model that makes the robot the best economic solution to the problem.

Welty has automated warehouses for Fortune 500 companies, startups, and even built a major third-party logistics company that ships more than$1 billionin e-commerce orders per year for companies including Zara, Glossier, and Bonobos.

How Many Warehouse Robots Does It Take to Fill a Grocery Order?

The U.K.’s biggest online grocer hit a milestone this year: Ocado Group put together an order of 50 items, including produce, meat and dairy, in five minutes.

RELATED: Amazon’s warehouse robots are boosting productivity, getting goods to customers faster Ocado, founded 17 years ago in the London exurb of Hatfield, says automation is the only way to handle individualized grocery orders in large volumes.

They’re interested in having some of that business without taking 17 years to innovate themselves.” For grocers unwilling or unable to invest in robots, Ocado offers software that helps them set up an in-store picking system—like the one Wal-Mart uses—with the hope that they’ll eventually buy the whole package.

Founded by three former Goldman Sachs merchant bankers, the company first relied on a kind of trolley that moved among the shelves, making stops for employees to hop off and grab the items they needed.

within a couple of years, Ocado moved to a conveyor-based system and has continued to improve its software and add more machines, such as cranes that move bins of food onto shelves.

RELATED: Amazon enlists researchers to build box-packing warehouse robots Ocado’s state-of-the-art facility opened about a year ago and has automated the most labor-intensive part of fulfillment: fetching items, a task known as picking.

The first two have a similar setup: squat, rectangular robots, developed with manufacturer Tharsus, sit atop a rectangular grid, with layers and layers of crates beneath holding the 50,000-plus products Ocado sells.

(The current robots can’t operate in sub-zero environments, so freezer items are still picked and packed manually, but Ocado and others are working on ones that can handle the cold.) RELATED: This e-commerce company pays for warehouse worker weddings.

The stock peaked the same year but has since fallen more than 50% to 284 pounds ($371), partly owing to rising competition from the likes of Amazon and Ocado’s struggle to sell its technology beyond a few customers.

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