Lane Automotive chooses Exotec Skypod automation for varied SKUs

Exotec provides shuttles for high-density storage and picking at Lane Automotive.
Exotec provides shuttles for high-density storage and picking at Lane Automotive. Source: Exotec

Exotec SAS today announced that Lane Automotive Inc. has been using its Skypod goods-to-person system to automate its distribution operations in North America. The system, which Conveyco Technologies helped integrate, has been fully operational since Dec. 19, 2023, according to Croix, France-based Exotec.

“As a company that is steadfast in its passion for its customers’ success and the products it distributes, we had to identify the right goods-to-person robotics and integration partners that could easily integrate with our existing automation and distribution ecosystem to help transform our operations for years to come,” said David Meadow, CIO of Lane Automotive, in a release.

“Exotec and Conveyco not only delivered on this transformation; they were [also] key partners in our distribution automation journey,” he said. “With Exotec’s Skypod system at the core of our operation, we were able to easily integrate additional best-in-class automation technologies to fully maximize the efficiency and throughput of the Skypod system.”

Lane Automotive handles a wide range of parts

Since 1964, Lane Automotive has been a global distributor of global aftermarket racing and high-performance automotive parts and accessories. The Watervliet, Mich.-based company carries more than 660 brands and stocks over 100,000 specialty parts in its Southwest Michigan facility alone. It needed a system capable of efficient and accurate multi-channel fulfillment.

“The seasonal nature of our business generally sees its peaks between March and June,” said James MacEachern, chief operating officer of Lane Automotive. “Prior to Exotec and Conveyco’s complementary automation solutions, this volume could stress our operational capacity.”

“Lane has a thriving and fast-evolving business,” noted Stanislas Normand, managing director of Atlanta-based Exotec North America.

“This was one of our longer projects — not due to material delays, but the first sales phase was quite long,” he told Mobile Robot Guide. “Finalizing the design took some time, and then it requested additional robots.”

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Skypod supports fulfillment

Lane Automotive chose to deploy Exotec’s systems to manage its extensive inventory while improving the speed and accuracy of its pick, pack, and ship operations. For its first automated warehouse project, the company deployed 62 robots, five picking stations, and 59,600 storage bins in its distribution center.

The Skypod automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) uses robots to reach a height of 39 ft. (12 m). Exotec claimed that its high-density system can work with its Skypath conveyors to automate physically intensive tasks and reduce order-fulfillment times.

The company noted that more than 30 leading brands, including Carrefour, Decathlon, Gap Inc., and UNIQLO, use its hardware and software to drive operational efficiency, add resilience, and improve working conditions for warehouse operators.

“Skypod was installed in four or five months, but it took a year in total to be integrated with the larger systems and equipment not in our scope,” said Normand. “All we ask from customers is to understand their business. They don’t have to make any technological choices on the Skypod system — just volumes and the SKU base, and we can take care of the rest.”

Conveyco covered complex integration

Conveyco Technology worked with Lane Automotive for a while on the integration, noted Normand. It mostly focused on the software side, but Exotec has a standard application programming interface (API) to make that easier, he said.

Conveyco has provided RightFIT performance enhancements for order fulfilment, distribution centers, and warehouse operations for over 40 years. It offers automated guided vehicles (AGVs), autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), ASRS, and other systems for order fulfillment, sortation, palletizing, case handling, picking, and dispensing. It also provides warehouse software and consulting and integration services.

“What was unique about this deployment is that Lane carries a lot of SKUs for very specific needs — racing, drag racing, and off-road — but it has small inventories for each,” explained Normand. “That’s where Skypod creates value instead of standard warehouse fulfillment solutions.”

“A second challenge is due to the nature of its customers,” he said. “They have high peak demands throughout the week and ahead of races, and Lane has a commitment to short delivery times. Our automated piece-picking system allows it to meet carrier deadlines.”

“The third challenge came up during deployment — Lane wanted to put some SKUs into the system that we didn’t originally think of,” Normand said. “It had larger items that filled up one-third to one-half of the bin, posing additional constraints on the optimization of storage.”

Exotec devised dividers to split the bins into eight compartments or one-third and two-thirds for larger items. The ability to handle such varied items comes up in many different industries and depends on the quality of data on item dimensions, said Normand.

“We have strong thresholds on the number of items for compartments,” he said. “Fortunately, Lane had clean data on article weights and dimensions.”

Lane expects sixfold throughput increase

Exotec said its purpose-built robotics enable Lane Automotive to “future-proof its fulfillment operations for its growing business.” Lane Automotive said it expects to realize a sixfold increase in throughput, faster turnaround times, and an industry-leading customer experience.

In addition, Exotec said its robots have saved Lane warehouse workers from walking more than 5 to 7 miles a ay and eliminated the need for lifting heavy boxes.

After the initial deployment, Exotec has stationed a staffer on site for the duration of the lifetime of the system, said Normand. The company also monitors around the clock from its control center in Atlanta, and Exotec has a U.S. maintenance team plus a contract management team that meets with customers monthly.

“Even though we design standard products, we also focus on customer relationships in our 10- to 15-year contracts,” Normand said. “Lane is working to use the system to its full capacity. This is a really interesting customer for us.”

David Meadow, chief information officer of Lane Automotive, will speak about his experiences on a panel with Exotec at MODEX 2024 on March 13 in Atlanta.

Written by

Eugene Demaitre

Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of the robotics group at WTWH Media. He was senior editor of The Robot Report from 2019 to 2020 and editorial director of Robotics 24/7 from 2020 to 2023. Prior to working at WTWH Media, Demaitre was an editor at BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, TechTarget, and Robotics Business Review.

Demaitre has participated in robotics webcasts, podcasts, and conferences worldwide. He has a master's from the George Washington University and lives in the Boston area.