There’s a common theme that continues to ring true in Gap Inc.’s distribution centers: from adversity comes great innovation. With the many challenges of COVID-19, that mantra has never been more critical. The latest result has come in the form of Gap Inc.’s new state-of-the-art distribution center (DC) - an expansion of the company’s original facility in Groveport, Ohio.
Having opened two months ahead of schedule to alleviate constraints brought on by the pandemic, the facility is designed to be Gap Inc.’s highest capacity fulfillment center with integrated automation and robotics to process 1 million units per day. Better yet, during this initial “ramp up” phase, the facility is only processing orders for one very important item: fabric masks from Gap and Old Navy (read more about our mask offerings from across our brands here).
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Automation is nothing new to this group. In fact, it’s served as a cornerstone in the transformation of our network of distribution centers, which were historically channel-specific (think: built to serve either our retail stores or the online market - but not both at the same time). By bringing in some seriously cool automation and technology, the Logistics team has been on a journey to evolve our distribution centers into a cross-channel fulfillment operation that can seamlessly serve both online and retail orders in one facility.
But what makes the “OHO” center special is that it’s the first Gap Inc. Facility to house all the different technology systems that have been tested and perfected in our other DCs. This takes shape in a few impressive ways:
Two Bombay Unit Sorters with stacked configuration. These sorters consist of a conveyor belt of trays that split open in the middle and drop down product into the appropriate chute. Having two sorters allows us to be flexible with our capacity – we have the option to turn on one sorter to process 500k units a day or turn on both to process up to 1 million units a day during peak. Additionally, the twin sorters’ stacked configuration takes up less space while still providing operations resiliency. Meaning, if one sorter goes down or needs maintenance, the other can operate just fine on its own. Back-up options are key in supply chain!
Automated Storage and Retrieval System with 425,000 case storage capacity. This system consists of automated cranes that can quickly race up and down 24 aisles of storage space to stash away or retrieve thousands of cases. While most of our DCs have incorporated the ASRS systems, none can store as many online and retail units as the OHO.
20 Kindred SORT Orbs - Each orb houses a robotic “arm,” surrounded by a sphere of cubbies, and can quickly and accurately sort batches of units destined for multiple online orders. As part of our ongoing partnership with Kindred, we’ve deployed a fleet of Orbs across our network – but OHO has the most of any facility. These robots have played a key role in allowing us to meet online demand while allowing us to keep employees at a safe physical distance.
2 Auto-Baggers that quickly and efficiently wrap e-commerce orders in Gap Inc.’s iconic blue packaging. By automating this simple task, we can assign our DC associates to other areas of the operation that need more attention.
As we continue to prioritize speed, the decision to widely expand the Columbus-adjacent location was also strategic. With its proximity to Rickenbacker Airport -- one of the only cargo-dedicated airports in the world – we will be able to deliver packages faster to a larger swath of the country.
During pre-COVID times, we would prepare for a DC “go-live” with a handful of technology and automation vendors present at the site, as well as our own San Francisco-based technology team, to test the many intricate systems and ensure they’re all properly communicating with other. Of course, times have changed, and travel has not been an option. In this case, all vendors and the tech team had to provide their expert guidance from afar by Zooming into test sessions. Only a few onsite employees from the Groveport, Ohio facility, were actually present, including campus leader, Diane McKean.
“Months ago, when we began to fully realize the logistics constraints of COVID-19, it became clear that we needed to accelerate the OHO go-live plan to better serve our customers. This allowed us to double our processing capacity here in Groveport,” said McKean, Sr. Director of Distribution at Gap Inc. “Given the level of cutting-edge technology and automation, we have added a world-class distribution center to our network. But we would not be able to launch two months early during a global pandemic without the help from our teams on the ground and across the country, as well as our valued partners. The collaboration was truly a herculean effort.”
Throughout the ramp up phase, the facility will process more and more orders, and will be at full capacity just in time for the holidays. In the meantime, we continue to hire associates to join our DC teams -- because even with the most advanced robotics, we know that our technology is only as strong as our talent.
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