On the set of Manufacturing Matters at the Autonomous Mobile Robotics and Logistics Conference, located at the Vision show in Boston, Winn talks to Patty Katsaros. Patty is the Director of Marketing Operations at Locust Robotics. Locus Robotics is an automation solutions provider. They help eCommerce companies and third-party logistics companies increase their productivity with robotics automation solutions. Locus Robotics helps companies with warehouse logistics solutions by improving the productivity of their picking operations.
Winn Hardin: [00:00:07] Everybody, here we are at Manufacturing Matters in Boston, at the Autonomous Mobile Robotics and Logistics Conference, which is co-located with the Vision Show here in Boston. And I’m lucky enough to be with Patty Katsaros, director of marketing operations at Locus Robotics. Thanks for being with us.
Patty Katsaros: [00:00:21] Thanks for having me.
Winn Hardin: [00:00:22]. My pleasure. So Patty, this is one of the first times we’ve had a chance to talk. Tell us a little bit about Locus Robotics.
Patty Katsaros: [00:00:27] So Locus Robotics is an automation solutions provider, and we help e-commerce companies and third-party logistics companies really increase their productivity — with robotics automation solutions that help people in warehouse logistics. Essentially we help improve the productivity for their picking operations.
Winn Hardin: [00:00:54] Fantastic. So you obviously have a lot of the AMR hardware that we’ve seen at the booth also, but you do some warehouse optimization interfacing with the WMS. Can you tell us a little bit about the zone?
Patty Katsaros: [00:01:05] Absolutely. Yeah. So it’s great. We take the information from WMS system, the picking the orders, and it all goes into our system, and we optimize the picking paths, and essentially the people stay in zones and the robots come to them and they direct them picking. They tell them exactly what to pick, where the people stay, the robots come, they pick, the robots go, and they go to the next station or they go to the pack-out. And it really helps to optimize and increase productivity. And we see our customers. We have customers all over the world. Over 200 deployments worldwide. And we’ve seen them increase productivity two to three times in a matter of like six months. It’s pretty crazy. And they have to make no changes to the infrastructure in order to deploy our robots.
Winn Hardin: [00:01:57] Which has been one of the biggest drawbacks to AMR solutions, right, where you had to go with magnetic strip or some other type of navigation system. But how is Locus overcoming those challenges?
Patty Katsaros: [00:02:06] Well, we use slam navigation, and the robots create maps themselves, so there’s no infrastructure changes. And really you put them in, and we really offer this white glove treatment, where we deploy, we help, we develop a concept of operations. So the founders of Locus started a third-party logistics company. And so they took all of that deep knowledge and built a robotics company. So it’s really all about the logistics and the operations and how to optimize it. So starting with that foundation, we bring to bear all of that deep knowledge and learning. And now we’ve grown and improved productivity for all kinds of different warehouses, from small to enterprise level, like in DHL, for example. And so there’s a lot of stories that you can find all over on our website, on social media, to help learn how we can actually help other companies.
Winn Hardin: [00:03:13] So you’re not just working with the big carriers, the big national internationals. You’ve got a solution for some of the smaller retailers and the regional distribution centers?
Patty Katsaros: [00:03:21] Yeah, absolutely. That’s the great thing about the solution is you can get it up and running in weeks.
Winn Hardin: [00:03:26] That was going to be my next question. So someone contacts you. It’s a very consultative sale. You said white glove. So obviously a little bit of handholding to the process.
Patty Katsaros: [00:03:34] Yep.
Winn Hardin: [00:03:36] If a customer comes to you and says, okay, you know, I’ve got 100,000 SKUs. What is the actual time to production, time to commissioning of the system?
Patty Katsaros: [00:03:47] It can be as fast as two to three months, from the time where we’ve worked through exactly what it’s going to be to deployment. Yeah, it can be months, sometimes weeks. It’s incredible. But we really do take a look. And the reason that the deployment goes so smoothly is because there’s a lot of time in the front end to work through the concept of operations to really understand what the challenges are and to ensure that they’re going to get the fit and the ROI that they want, because if it’s not a good solution for them, we won’t work with it. Because it’s not going to give the return. We say speed to value — is one of the things we say a lot — is really important to us. And if it’s not going to help them immediately, then it’s not worth moving forward.
Winn Hardin: [00:04:36] Now, I would assume that a lot of that preplanning and that strategic development in the early part, that probably also helps to field a solution that’s customized without really having to get in the middle and slow down their operations for long.
Patty Katsaros: [00:04:49] Absolutely, yeah.
Winn Hardin: [00:04:49] It’s not like e-commerce or warehousing right now can slow down.
Patty Katsaros: [00:04:53] Right. And then another wonderful thing and because of e-commerce and how, think about peak periods, you know that happens around holiday times, with Locus, there are two things working where we do robots as a service. So there’s very limited upfront costs, and you’re going to pay for what you need. And then it’s always improving and you always have the latest equipment, the latest software. It’s all included, and all of our service is included. But also we offer peak programs, where if you need to flex up for a period of time during peak and have 20 more robots for your system, we have a service that will bring in 20 and then we’ll take them away if you don’t need them anymore. So it really allows that flexibility that’s so critical for e-commerce operations.
Winn Hardin: [00:05:42] Now this may be a left field question, but I’ve got to ask: So what’s the fastest someone has achieved payback?
Patty Katsaros: [00:05:54] Yeah. So I’ve heard — you know I’m not on the sales front end and the front lines — but I’ve heard six months.
Winn Hardin: [00:06:02] Six months.
Patty Katsaros: [00:06:03] Yeah. I mean, it’s fast. It’s fast.
Winn Hardin: [00:06:06] Right.
Patty Katsaros: [00:06:07] Absolutely.
Winn Hardin: [00:06:09] Planning is almost like the precursor to getting payback.
Patty Katsaros: [00:06:12]. It’s amazing. Yeah. It’s incredible how fast and how happy. And we have many stories, and we don’t just have like some testimonials, but we have a lot of companies that want to go on record and talk about not only how the company loves the robots, but I think more importantly, how the associates love the robots. Because they’re really the most important part of it. They’re happy because it makes their jobs a lot easier. They go from walking, you know, seven to 10 miles a day to cut that by a tenth. And they go home with more energy at the end of the day. And it’s a lot better place to work because they’re not just pushing heavy carts all day. Instead they’re standing around. They’re working with technology. They become robot wranglers, and they enjoy working with them.
Winn Hardin: [00:07:07] I wish we had some statistics on what that means for retention, because I know in warehousing operations, the biggest problem is turnover. Human asset, human capital turnover. So anything that can really improve that culture has got to be.
Patty Katsaros: [00:07:18] Absolutely. I’ve even heard some of the customers I’ve talked to, I’ve heard that they’ll use it as a training. It’s so easy to get going and work with. We offer multi languages, because it’s a Bluetooth, so they wear a Bluetooth tag, and as soon as they walk up to the robot, it knows it’s that individual associate and it’ll change languages if needed. French. You know, they’ll change to Spanish. It’ll change whatever it might be. Very easy to work with. It’s very prescriptive and directive so that companies will actually bring on new employees and they’ll train them on the robots to help train them on the entire operation because it’s so easy. They’re so easy to work with.
Winn Hardin: [00:08:00] Now tell me a little bit, if you wouldn’t mind, about the Waypoint acquisition.
Patty Katsaros: [00:08:04] Sure. Yeah. So Locus is very focused on warehouse operations expanding within the four walls. The e-commerce typically go in 100 pounds smaller each picking. But with the acquisition of Waypoint, it brought on higher-capacity robots. So now you can think about case picking, the robots can move carts. We have a vector that will actually pick up and move carts. We have Max, which will can handle 3,000 pounds. So you can now do case picking or you can do pick to pallet. There’s a lot of opportunities that open up within the warehouse. And then even beyond expanding into industrial and potentially manufacturing applications as well.
Winn Hardin: [00:08:45] Are you guys able to — does that eliminate the need for an AGV or an automated forklift, or is that something maybe a next phase down the road?
Patty Katsaros: [00:08:53] It really depends. Certainly for AGV, where you don’t have to put lines in the floor and that kind of stuff. With the forklifts, it could work together with the forklift, where the forklift could be used to put things on and off the robot potentially. Sometimes those high bay forklifts can stay in the high bay area and then marry with a robot, and then the robot takes it away. We’ve seen it where it keeps — whether it’s automated forklifts or just manual forklifts — keeps them on the perimeter because they’re very dangerous. And then you have the robots interior because they’re a lot safer and more consistent.
Winn Hardin: [00:09:32] So is that usually the supervisory software? Is it the WMS system in that case?
Patty Katsaros: [00:09:36] Yeah.
Winn Hardin: [00:09:37] And I bet you Locus has spent a lot of time and effort developing your software.
Patty Katsaros: [00:09:40] Yeah. Technically the WMS is where all the orders are coming or going into, and then we’re getting that information and then our system is supervisory In terms of the robotic solution.
Winn Hardin: [00:09:56] Yes, I was wondering who would be interfacing the AGVs with the Locus solutions. So I knew that you were pulling data from the WMS.
Patty Katsaros: [00:10:05] Yeah.
Winn Hardin: [00:10:08] And in terms of Locus’ integration with other AGV solutions, if you have APIs for that or if that’s maybe just handled by the WMS. So in that case, it’s something that’s not really in Locus’ primary area of concern.
Patty Katsaros: [00:10:22] It’s one of the things that we’re doing, and I’m really proud of our work with the mass robotics and other companies for the interoperability standard. And those are the types of standards that are going to help those robots from other vendors work together and work kind of on the same — so one company will be able to visualize all different types of robots from different manufacturers. That’s going to help with that integration.
Winn Hardin: [00:10:51] So since this is the first year at AMR that’s been in Boston, it’s also the first time I’ve seen a demo on the show floor demo area. And I believe you fielded a couple of demos. Do you want to share?
Patty Katsaros: [00:11:00] We did, yeah. So we’re showing our cart connect capabilities, with two of the demos, with our vector picking up — it could easily dynamically pick up a cart, move it, drop it off easily. So that allows for great case picking applications. Really think of all of the areas within a warehouse where people are pushing carts. You can start to now have the robot drive the cart and just have the people picking on and off the carts. So we were demonstrating that as well. And then we participated in the interoperability panel with our demo with MassRobotics and InOrbit. And so we did that as well.
Winn Hardin: [00:11:41] Well thank goodness you guys are around. So there’s a chance you might actually get a Christmas gift this year by the end of January — just the way things are going you never know. So is there anything coming down the pike from Locus? You’ve got a lot of innovation solutions right there. Is there anything that we should be looking for in 2023?
Patty Katsaros: [00:11:58] I think you’re going to see us involved in just expanding, like I said, within the four walls of the warehouse and then outside into industrial manufacturing applications. And partnering with other companies to, just as you were saying, kind of work together and expand so you can really offer a total solution for customers from both small but also enterprise-level companies.
Winn Hardin: [00:12:26] That’s wonderful, Patty. Thanks for taking some time today. I really appreciate you being on Manufacturing Matters.
Patty Katsaros: [00:12:30] Yeah, thank you. This is wonderful. This is really fun.
Winn Hardin: [00:12:32] So if anybody’s got any questions for Patty or for Locus Robotics, please just give us a shout. Contact us over at TechB2B. Like, share the video here so that we can continue to spread the word that manufacturing matters. Thanks again.