LAFAYETTE, La. (ABiz) – Everyone at Stuller Inc. gets along with the company’s two newest employees, Fred and Stella.
The mega jewelry manufacturer has stepped into the future with its robot associates, each helping with day-to-day operations and tasks.
Fred and Stella are Adept Lynx AIVs, or autonomous intelligent vehicles, outfitted with custom shelves that move around their respective departments to pick up small parts and orders to make production more efficient. The AIVs take the place of a simple job that has traditionally been carried out by human associates, who have since been relocated to other positions at the company.
“We used to have a runner that would do that for us all day long throughout the department,” says Shane Guidry, the stone setting director at Stuller who works with Stella. “And what it would do is they would update the jobs going from section to section so that we knew where the location of the job was if we needed to look for it for any reason.”
The robots are designed for moving material in challenging environments that may include confined passageways as well as dynamic and populated locations, which make them ideal for daily operations at Stuller. They are quick to deploy, naturally avoid obstacles and work safely alongside humans.
According to Guidry, one of the biggest advantages of deploying the robots came in the form of significantly reduced lead times, which is the amount of time between the placement of an order and the delivery of a product.
“We were able to reduce that, and we were able to reduce the updating steps — we call it over-processing — to free up associates and put them in areas where they were needed instead of hiring [more employees],” says Guidry. “So basically, long story short, we went from 11 days from the longest lead time, and today it’s now a one- to three-day turn. It’s pretty amazing.”
Guidry says the AIV’s reduction of overall lead times has helped save time and allowed his department to produce more work, which really came in handy during the busy holiday season.
“We were able to do like two to three extra days of work that we wouldn’t have been able to do in prior years,” he says. “So that’s a lot of work, believe it or not, especially at our critical time of Christmas.”
An AIV’s primary functionality may be limited to basically running a simple route or circuit around its respective department within Stuller, but there are several interactive features that employees can use to help ease the work flow. The AIVs have limited voice commands; for instance, Stella can speak an associate’s name and which department it is heading for next. An associate can also enter commands through a computer that will be conveyed to the AIV, which will in turn speak the command aloud.
The robots also have a set of sensors that allow them to navigate around obstacles and associates, though each of them is isolated to their individual departments. However, a set of command buttons on the back of each unit allows it to be directed to another department outside of its preset route for various tasks and assignments.
According to Guidry, there are plans to expand the number of AIVs being used at Stuller given that his department alone, the Stuller Studios Stone Settting, is roughly 16,500 square feet and is filled with long hallways and open areas where a large amount of supplies is transported. Guidry says the biggest obstacle in adding to the AIV fleet at Stuller would be getting the units in and out of the facility’s high-security areas.
“The big challenge we’ve had is there are high-security areas where we keep pads on doors for inventory because of the value of the metal and stones,” says Guidry. “So it’s kind of costly because it’s going to have to be able to have sensors to open those doors with safety, with knowing that people are around and not just letting anybody in. I think it’s going to be the next thing that happens.”
[This article originally appeared in the August 2015 edition of Acadiana Business (ABiz) Magazine and on TheIND.com.]