How warehouse robots are revolutionizing the on-demand economy


Digital retail giant Amazon is over 200,000 robots help deliver more than 350 million various products in a ceaseless flood of billions of shipments. Its fulfillment engine with free and fast shipping has become a key competitive advantage over other retailers: free shipping and 1-day or 2-day shipping why Amazon customers have chosen Amazon.

So how can other retailers, whether giants like Walmart or smaller brands, compete? One way is to get ahead of the ecommerce giant and automate yourself.

This surge in automation, fueled by our on-demand economy, is fueling the growth of the warehouse robotics space by more than 15% each year, causing the ecosystem to more than double and roll over in size by 2027 $23 billion worth. It also increases productivity by 200-300% according to industry experts.

Sometimes in easier ways than you might think.

Locus Robotics is a seven-year-old logistics automation startup with $300 million in funding that is on track to select 1 billion items this year. And increasing productivity isn’t always about the biggest, smartest, most capable robot that can go anywhere, find anything, take it off the storage shelf, and deliver it where it needs to go. Sometimes it’s just about giving a helping hand and letting people do what they can do better.

I recently spoke to Locus Robotics CMO Karen Leavitt on the TechFirst Podcast.

“Our robots know what is involved, nobody has to look at a list. The robots go to where the item is stored, and then a worker meets the robot there,” says Leavitt. “In this way we double or triple the productivity of the people in this warehouse and we reduce mileage by probably 75 or 80%. These are people who would walk 10 to 15 miles a day without the robots. And now they are only a few kilometers a day because they are interacting with the robots.”

In other words, warehouse robots don’t necessarily have to do all the work. Retrieving variably shaped objects with variable weight from shelves of variable height and depth is a challenging task for robots. Humans can do much better – at least for now. However, robots are much better at rolling through a several hundred thousand square foot warehouse and saving humans all the walking.

The problem? Almost all warehouses now do this entirely manually, says Leavitt.

“95% of all these warehouses do this process entirely manually, where it’s one person pushing a glorified shopping cart down the aisles and walking… a dozen or more miles a day.”

Locus delivers robots via what it calls the Robots-as-a-Service model, adding extras during busy periods like holidays. The ‘learning time’ for a new robot is basically zero: connect to the robot network and it will be assigned tasks and integrated into the workflow immediately.

The robots also reduce training time for workers. Instead of spending two or three weeks learning all the tricks of the logistic trade, they can essentially stay in a specific area of ​​the warehouse. When a robot shows up and shows you some information, you can grab the right item and give it to the robot.

That makes people more productive, says Leavitt.

It also reduces injuries. According to Leavitt, one customer reported an 80% reduction in injuries and increased job satisfaction due to reduced fatigue.

Of course, two things happen there. People essentially become part of a command and control network run by a warehouse or logistics operating system — which I think has always happened in one form or another, even in pre-digital days — and they’re basically told what they do should select. when and where, by the robot that fetches the next item. And second, as robots get better, smarter, more powerful, and cheaper, eventually the robots will be able to add the picking part of the job too.

Or Locus and other robot manufacturers will create a class of robots that not only move product, but essentially replace pickers on warehouse shelves, so one robot moves product while another robot receives it.

That may be a long way off, but it seems inevitable. However, it doesn’t seem to be something any robotics company would want to admit.

“Three, four years ago, I was worried about that tension, but we didn’t see it,” says Leavitt. “And the reason we haven’t seen it is because the growth rate in the fulfillment warehouse space has been so strong that the ability to find, hire, and retain workers is still the number one challenge for warehouse operators.”

That makes sense, but as we’re seeing, Amazon is starting to use robots like Fanuc’s 6-axis robot, which can lift 1,200-pound pallets high in the air, and other smaller robots with dexterous “fingers” for lighter and more delicate ones Article considering that the days are approaching when all shipping and fulfillment tasks can be handled by robots.

And of course managed by complex software to optimize timing and productivity.

“We’re really turning these warehouses into digital command centers,” Leavitt told me. “We put monitors everywhere that create dashboards. And we don’t just see supervisors and managers looking at these dashboards, but also workers looking at them: they can see how their actions are contributing to warehouse performance. And they can then take action.”

With Amazon and Walmart almost bound In its share of U.S. retail sales and hundreds if not thousands of other retailers struggling to compete, this type of automation is critical not only for Walmart to be competitive, but for every other retailer as well.

Locus Robotics added two new robots to its fleet last month that will handle heavier loads and pick products at the case and pallet levels – but not individual items yet. Both are available with its Robots-as-a-Service model.

Global logistics giant DHL says they work:

“Locus’ innovative multi-bot solution has helped DHL continuously double the productivity of our employees around the world,” said Adrian Kumar, a DHL senior executive, in a statement. “This new robot lineup – with the different form factors all working together as a coordinated fleet – means we always assign the right robot, even as our needs change dynamically throughout the workday.”

Competitors include Fanuc with a long list of warehouse, manufacturing and industrial robots, OTTO, Grabit, Fetch Robotics (acquired by Zebra) and more.

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