First Supply to deploy 36 Exotec robots in Wisconsin distribution center

An image of Exotec's blue bin stacks and its white robots moving off of ramps and towards the shelving.
Exotec says First Supply is one of the first U.S. companies in its industry to adopt its robotics technology. | Source: Exotec

First Supply LLC needed to reimagine its supply chain to keep up with growth. Warehouse automation provider Exotec SAS today announced it has partnered with the Madison, Wis.-based company.

First Supply claimed that it is the largest Wisconsin-based wholesaler of HVAC, builder, plumbing, lighting, waterworks, industrial PVF (pipes, valves, and fittings), pump, well, and septic supplies. It needed to find a system to manage a growing variety of SKUs, effectively use available space, and reduce labor-intensive manual picking practices. 

Exotec will install its robotics technology at First Supply’s new 308,000-sq.-ft. (28,614 sq. m) distribution center in Western Wisconsin. The company said it expects Exotec’s Skypod system to help improve picking, optimize resource utilization, and ultimately better serve its customers. 

“As a 127-year-old, fifth-generation company, First Supply is committed to innovating how our employees experience work daily,” stated Katie Poehling Seymour, president and CEO of First Supply. “Our rich history has laid the groundwork for success in distributing innovation and fostering partnerships in our communities, with our customers, and among our partners

“We’re transforming our supply chain, focusing on optimizing inventory management through enhanced technology and refined procedures, exemplified by our new distribution center,” she added.

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First Supply to scale storage with automation

Exotec’s Skypod system at First Supply will consist of more than 43,000 storage bins, 36 robots, three picking stations, and three induction workstations. First Supply is anticipating further growth in the coming future, so it designed the new distribution center to easily scale its storage capacity by up to 30% by adding bins and robots. 

The Skypod system includes the Skypath conveying technology to feed six packing stations and a sortation loop with 12 outbound destination lanes. First Supply said the distribution center will support all of its branch locations in the Upper Midwest. In addition, it will supply direct-to-customer deliveries. 

The company said its goal is to innovate its current operations while improving workplace conditions for its employees and enabling further business growth. 

“We believe in working smarter, not just harder. Robotics provide us with an efficient means to store and retrieve items, enhancing efficiency and enabling us to swiftly adapt to the evolving demands of our business,” Poehling Seymour said. “We foresee a bright future for our company, driven by human connections in our operations while collaborating with companies like Exotec to accelerate our innovations.”

Exotec's picking stations.
Exotec’s system with First Supply will involve three picking stations and three induction workstations. | Source: Exotec

Exotec continues global expansion, shares insights

Exotec achieved a $2 billion valuation in 2022 and said it has produced more than 7,000 Skypod mobile robots at over 100 customer sites. The Lille, France-based company has expanded worldwide, with an office in Atlanta and an 80% increase in headcount over the past year to more than 850 employees.

Exotec won a 2024 RBR50 Robotics Innovation Award for its deployment of Skypod at Lane Automotive. The company also shared best practices for change management in warehouse automation in a free webinar last week.

In February, Exotec appointed Louis Esquerre-Pourtere as director of research and development. He previously was a systems team manager and helped bring together teams to design standardized, robust products tailored to customers’ logistical needs.

Mobile Robot Guide recently spoke with with Esquerre-Pourtere about his experience, R&D at Exotec, and plans for the automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) provider.

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Automated Warehouse staff