It felt appropriate that the robots would be on display in retail warehouses at the Manhattan Associates Exchange 2022 in Berlin from October 10-12.
Packing, sorting and collaborating robots machines have been working away in the lobby of the Cosmos Convention Center, displaying their capacity to the hundreds of retail reps scurrying around the site. They were just in time A reminder of the big trend in stocking retail.
Less than a week ago, Wal-Mart announced a “step forward” in its technology investments and the evolution of its supply chain with the acquisition of robot automation company Alert Innovation.
Following significant technology-led investment in regional distribution centers and fulfillment locations over the past several years, the US grocer and marketer has agreed to acquire Alert to bolster its already substantial expertise in the field.
Alert develops material handling technology to automate order fulfillment in retail supply chains. The acquisition comes after the two companies have spent the past six years working together to customize technology for it Market Fulfillment Centers at Walmart (MFC).
The MFC network that Walmart has developed — which makes its stores’ technology suitable for online order fulfillment — will now be beefed up, according to the retailer. The company said such an investment is good for customer exposure and more efficient for staff assigned to serve online shoppers from stores.
The first MFC to use robot technology from Alert was piloted in 2019, says David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart US.
“Robot technology is noteworthy in the industry, due to its fully autonomous robots that store, retrieve, and distribute orders by moving horizontally, horizontally, and vertically across three temperature zones without any elevators or conveyors,” he explains. “This provides less space constraints within the MFC and eliminates the need to pause the entire system for robot maintenance.”
Guggina suggests that the arrival of the Alert team will strengthen Walmart’s existing robotics and engineering departments, and he promises that Walmart will continue to modernize its supply chain operations with more investments in robotics and automation in both stores and the broader distribution network.
Amazon is shaking things up again
The technology on display in Berlin, which represents some of the systems that match Manhattan’s ever-evolving warehouse management technology stack, was from Locus and Exotec. Zebra Technologies — which owns its own robot technology after acquiring Fetch Robotics last year, but didn’t show it in Berlin — also had a presence at Kosmos Hall.
These companies’ presence in the industrial robotics market is due in part to the first wave of retail robot consolidation, which began in 2012 when Amazon acquired Kiva Systems for a deal worth about $775 million. Other companies that used Kiva robots in their warehouses at the time quickly ran into work with Newly created Amazon Robotics division or seek technical expertise elsewhere, with the latter becoming the preferred option.
This created fertile ground for new robotics companies looking to fill the gap that Kiva left behind. These startups wanted to help the broader retail industry become more efficient in the supply chain and a large number of companies have sprung up around the world.
“There’s great innovation in academia and industry, and a mixture of the two. We’re agnostic to all of them. There’s a best-case fit for every type of robot in a warehouse, and it’s not a combination of A number of them in the distribution center is common.”
In fact, Locus was founded specifically in response to the Amazon-Kiva situation by the owner of a distribution center that uses Kiva. He uses a fleet of robots built into the stream Warehouse management systems To provide automated pallets to transfer selected items to a conveyor or to a packing station. Locus says this reduces walking distances and improves overall picking efficiencies.
Meanwhile, Exotec operates the Skypod order-picking system which includes robots that can climb shelves up to 12 meters high and retrieve products autonomously, before delivering bags to human- or automated picking stations. Its technology is used by companies such as Gap, Fast Retailing-owned Uniqlo, and Decathlon.
It was rewarded with the Manhattan Associates Partner Innovation Award 2022 during the event in Berlin, further raising its profile within the supply chain community and demonstrating just how important the field of robotics is to retailers.
The rise of bots focused on Exchange retailers comes as bot companies are being acquired by major retailers once again. Walmart’s Alert deal came just a month after Amazon went on another shopping spree, this time in Europe.
In September, it announced it had acquired Belgium’s Cloostermans, a century-old textile machinery company that has been supplying robotic logistics hardware to Amazon since 2019 after branching out into modern mechatronics.
Amazon said at the time of the deal that Cloostermans would help it “deploy new solutions more quickly at our sites to improve the working conditions of our employees and help Reduce our waste“.
One year ago, US fashion retailer American Eagle paid $350 million for Quiet Logistics, which operated a network of robot-driven distribution centers in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis and Jacksonville.
Retailers clearly identify the benefits in taking ownership of the latest robotics technology.
Labor costs and shortages
What is happening? Why the robotics acquisition activity? Computer Weekly asked this question to those in Exchange, and the main response was that high labor costs and limited availability of warehouse labor were the driving factors.
Simon Jones, UK and Ireland chief sales officer for Exotec, said it was the main reason retailers invested in it Robotics technology It is because of “manpower shortage and labor cost” but also because of storage space limitations.
“Every warehouse you go to they’ll tell you they can’t get enough employees,” he says. “Land is very expensive, so you need to maximize the floor space.” This lends itself to automation that can be built into warehouses upwards rather than on the ground floor as retailers look to get the most out of their properties to service thriving multi-channel operations.
But he counters that retailers “don’t need to buy bot companies,” as suppliers of this technology can work with retailers in a tailored way and allow them to scale the system as they like.
“Nobody can predict sales in five years — retailers want systems for what they need today in terms of capacity, however [they also want the chance to] Jones adds. “Bots can be brought in at peak time and then removed again as well.”
Steve Simmerman, Locus’ president of global alliances, calls American Eagle’s acquisition of Quiet Logistics in 2021 “a great strategic move” because it allowed the company to immediately accelerate its own technology capability.
Can you imagine how long it would take to design, build and automate six control centers? [Instead,] They did it overnight.
Simmerman agrees with the notion that global shortages and rising labor costs are a reason for retailers’ increased focus on robots in warehouses, adding that temporary employees are “very unreliable.” And at a time of “huge growth in e-commerce,” he says it makes sense to build robust systems to support it.
American Eagle also has the added advantage of becoming a third party logistics provider as a result of its purchase. The wholly owned American Eagle subsidiary that was created as a result of Quiet Logistics’ takeover is simply another source of income for the retailer.
The stage is set for more robots
Conversations with Exchange retailers and suppliers suggest that the impact of warehouse bots only goes one way and it will rapidly escalating in the next five years.
During an onstage presentation, Michael Ray, senior alliances manager at Zebra-owned Fetch, called pairing bots with warehouse management software in Manhattan “a game-changer.” Like Locus, Fetch bots are designed to work alongside employees and increase efficiency by ensuring employees don’t have to walk long distances.
Manhattan says its own evolution into a microservices IT architecture in recent years makes it easier for retailers and manufacturing customers to add bot capabilities when needed. Its new product-led approach to technology development enables a wealth of new solutions to hit the market and be made available to its customers every 90 days, said Capel during his keynote address.
The current trajectory of innovation has to shift dramatically to not include more bot-driven storage solutions.
Amazon said in September it had added 550 new pieces of technology to its fulfillment centers across Europe in the past three years, including pallet movers with a “large robotic arm” that eliminates the need to use forklifts to carry pallets, moving multiple items. automatically from one location to another.
She explained that machines that automatically lift hand bags before placing them on conveyors, as well as automated guided vehicle support robots that walk around their site and carry things for people are also among those additional technical innovations in their warehouses.
And the What Amazon does It is being replicated at Walmart, and apparently — from the evidence at the Manhattan Exchange — the broader retail industry, which still displays a thirst for letting machine sit alongside human in the name of more efficient fulfillment.
#Retail #bots #restart