Lightfoot: Developing a Faster, More Efficient Warehouse Automation System
Warehouse distribution centers are the very heart of commerce, with truckloads of product flowing in and out on a regular basis. On-time, accurate shipments are critical to both operation and profitability. Profit margins are tightly coupled to the logistical costs of moving product from the receiving dock to the shipping dock.
Lightfoot of Ambridge, PA, has developed Agilis, a new automated solution to the labor-intensive and error-prone manual task of case picking in distribution warehouses. Agilis is both more accurate and less expensive than traditional industry approaches. The company is initially targeting the system at the wine and spirits industry, which has more than $30 billion/year revenue.
Lightfoot’s advanced robotics and software technology accelerates the picking of cases of products to fill customer orders, with higher accuracy, predictability and efficiency, while minimizing breakage and workplace injuries to hourly associates. In addition to a lower cost, the Lightfoot system, standing 22 to 36 feet tall and running on a four-foot wide track, can be installed in an existing distribution center without replacing current material handling systems or shutting down operations.
A Boost from Ben Franklin
Lightfoot’s efforts in the automation industry are being supported in part by Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP), which invested $300,000 in the company in 2007. In addition to the funding, BFTP also provided the company with business plan feedback and qualification, fundraising assistance and networking services and also helped them secure an intern.
Lightfoot will install its first production robot at a leading, multi-billion dollar wine and spirits distributor in the southeastern U.S. at a fraction of the cost of alternative automation solutions currently available for the wholesale distribution industry. This also represents an unusual departure for a wine and spirits distributor, because most of the work within this industry is performed manually.
Lightfoot currently has four full-time employees. In addition to its relationship with BFTP, the company receives additional management support from executives of Lucas Systems, the leading provider of voice-directed warehouse applications. Members of the Lightfoot team have significant experience at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Lightfoot also relies heavily on local and regional manufacturers and suppliers, and the company expects to grow its number of engineering, project management, technical and production employees in the near future.
Keynotes June, 2008
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