ARC Advisory Group’s supply chain team believes that autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) in the warehouse is a high-growth and potentially transformative logistics technology. There is a handful of start-up companies currently offering AMR solutions to meet the challenges presented by the high-volume, high-labor requirements of e-commerce fulfillment. Each of these robotics start-ups is addressing the challenge in a different manner. For example, Locus Robotics‘ solution coordinates autonomous mobile robots to work collaboratively with warehouse workers. The bots dynamically navigate the warehouse floor meeting up with manual pickers until the tote is full and then it and transports the full tote to the pack station, and subsequently returns to pick zones for the next round of work. In contrast, Vecna Robotics‘ Tote Retrieval System uses vacuum technology and an extending tray to extract boxes and totes from warehouse shelving onto a mobile robotic cart. Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Lior Elazary, the CEO of inVia Robotics, about the characteristics of the robotics solution his firm recently brought to market.
inVia Robotics is a Los Angeles based start-up company offering a robotics solution that navigates to an item’s location, picks the desired item/s from standard warehouse shelving, then transports them to the packaging station or the next step in the fulfillment process. inVia’s robot, including the picking arm, is proprietary. The system includes a mobile robotic platform with a scissor lift that expands to eight feet in height, a vacuum grabber on an extendable arm, vision technology, and the software intelligence that manages the fleet of robots and its operations. The grabber can pick cartons, cases, and cylindrical items. I asked Lior why his company would engineer and produce its own picking apparatus when third-party robotic arms are readily available. He stated that it was imperative to develop a cost-effective solution, and that expensive third-party robotic arms would hinder this value proposition. The cost-effective price point of the solution is supported by a “robot as a service” payment model that removes the high up-front costs typical of traditional warehouse automation. And cost is indeed a major factor in determining the efficacy of the autonomous robotics solutions entering the market. I have found that cost-efficiency, reliability, and scalability are the major characteristics that autonomous robots must possess to become widely adopted warehouse technologies.
The Hollar Case
Last week inVia announced that Hollar, an online retailer of products starting at $1 in price, has deployed inVia’s picker robots and its cloud-based robotics management system. Hollar currently has about 20 inVia robots deployed at its Los Angeles warehouse with plans to scale to 100 in the near future. The robots are deployed in a goods-to-person configuration with the bots picking the items from warehouse shelves and then delivering them to workers at the perimeter of the pick zones for packaging or other next steps in the fulfillment process. Lior stated that they expect inVia robots to improve the facility’s order fulfillment productivity by 300-400 percent. I hope to interview Hollar executives after the busy holiday season to learn more about the company’s use of inVia Robotics’ solution, the benefits it obtained, and the future plans for its warehouse operations.