On January 30th MassRobotics, a non-profit robotics innovation hub, held its 2020 Logistics and Warehousing Executive Briefing, hosted by microlocation innovator, Humatics.
FedEx executive, Mark Scott, kicked off the event with his presentation, Roadmap and Roadblocks for AMRs in Logistics. During his presentation he described Memphis as a logistics cluster – a geographically concentrated pools of companies. At that point it struck me. The overarching theme of this event was the Boston robotics cluster and its supporting organizations. It can be seen in the ongoing growth of robotics companies in the region, many (most?) of which are focused on warehousing. But other regional influences were apparent in the attendance profile and even the content of discussions. For example, there were a number of former Kiva executives present and many MIT alumni as well. Also, I was pleasantly pleased that there were no discussions of technology for technology’s sake. Executives repeatedly discussed how their robotics companies had a focused strategy, understanding that they were looking to meet the needs of a select set of business cases. Meanwhile, they also noted the importance of partnering to obtain inputs for their solutions – understanding the unique and differentiated capabilities that their organizations possess – and how these capabilities will define their success. You could see the technological savvy of MIT merging with the practical influence of Harvard’s MBA curriculum.
FedEx Illustrates Practical AGV Requirements
“Practical” is also the word I believe best defines Mark Scott’s presentation on AMRs in Logistics. While providing the FedEx perspective on robotics, he mentioned practical considerations such as matching a robot to tasks that align well with its capabilities, the importance of a solid business case with a clear return on investment (ROI), and the importance of scalability – ability to rollout and duplicate across the organization. He also lightheartedly provided a few future engagement pointers to the technology providers in the audience. For example, he suggested that warehouse automation providers refrain from calculating ROI to large companies like FedEx. Inputs to the calculation will suffice, as large companies certainly have the capability to conduct the analysis for themselves. In addition, subscription models did not align with the needs of multi-billion-dollar companies, as their cost of capital is below average, and purchasing in volume affords them economies of scale. Also, one of the major roadblocks to adoption at large logistics companies is the mixed, often chaotic operating environments – indoor and outdoor, heterogeneous packages, manual and automated assets. Finally, he noted that ease of integration is a big decision point. The ability to integrate automation, robotics, and software from various vendors is an important element to technology selection. In fact, integration was a common, reoccurring theme at the event.
Integration in a World of Specialization
An open discuss broke out during the panel session on areas of opportunity for robotics in logistics. Panel member John Santagate discussed HighJump’s rapidly evolving robotics implementation and integration business. He stated the opportunity to assist HighJump clients with their burgeoning robotics initiatives and the important role of integration in these installations. An audience member from a Fortune 500 manufacturer of industrial tools then reinforced the importance by describing the complexities of integrating the automation and IT landscape within his organization. In fact, Humatics, the event’s host, is building its solution to serve as the common location layer for such an integrated system. Finally, A representative from SVT Robotics also noted his organization’s approach to the problem. Regardless, parties seemed to agree about the importance of integrating what is an increasingly heterogeneous technology environment in today’s warehouses.
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