APPLETON, Wis. — There’s a lot of ground to cover inside the massive 200,000-square-foot Werner Electric Supply warehouse in Appleton.

What You Need To Know

  • Werner Electric Supply has a large regional distribution center in Appleton

  • Artificial Intelligence is being used to help pick and pack pallets of goods

  • The system is designed to increase efficiencies, accelerate training and cut wear and tear on equipment

It’s ground covered daily by the people picking and packing pallets of supplies for Werner’s customers. Those employees get help from an artificial intelligence-based system called Augmented Cluster Building, or ACB.

Second shift warehouse manager Jason Gregory explained the process while following an employee named Ryan, as he found and picked products.

“What AI was doing for Ryan right there, was taking him on the right pick path, and taking him where he was picking larger items first, and then being able to build his pallet around some of those larger items,” Gregory said.

Werner provides hundreds of thousands of products to electrical contractors in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, from locations like the one in Appleton.

“It’s a great partner. This technology has brought time savings, training savings and it’s been fantastic across the board for us,” Gregory said. “Just being able to pick effectively, pick efficiently and have our trucks leave our docks in a timely manner every night to meet deadlines is outstanding for us and for our customers.”

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)

Werner implemented the system in the fall of 2022, in collaboration with Tecsys.

The team looked at how veteran warehouse employees did their jobs, which could include up to 290 miles of travel each month picking products. The company then turned that data over to artificial intelligence to increase picking efficiency, reduce training time, and cut down on wear and tear on equipment in the warehouse.

Jonah Reinhardt, Werner’s IT Business Systems manager, said it took more than four years to build the system.

“AI is at the forefront of everything. Everyone is talking about it, everyone is thinking about it. This was just a steppingstone for us,” he said. “We’re starting to dive into some strategic initiatives looking at AI and how can we continue to leverage and utilize it, not only in the warehouse, but in other functional areas of the business.”

Reinhardt said the benefits of the system in the warehouse go beyond just numbers. It also improves worker safety.

“One of the things AI brought to the table for us is being able to not have to have the picker make those decisions about where are they going to sort a pallet, or where are they going to stack stuff while they might be 40 feet up in the air,” Reinhardt said.

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)

According to Werner Electric Supply, the system has cut monthly travel around the warehouse by about 45 miles and helped accelerate training of new employees.

“We can get an effective picker going in two to three weeks versus six months,” Gregory said. “The time savings of that alone is fantastic.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the company name Tecsys. This error has been corrected. (April 11, 2024)