What’s New in Robotics? 24.02.2023
Posted on Feb 24, 2023 8:14 AM. 8 min read time
News briefs for the week take a look at a new breed of nano warehouses and the robots that serve them, a first-ever picking robot that also consolidates orders as it goes, a new, three-way partnership combining expertise to upgrade AutoStore, an automated layout printer revolutionizing the construction industry, and KUKA debuting a new AMR for intralogistics.
Robots & teeny warehouses
The incredible shrinking warehouse is a phenomenon of our times. In trying to get a little brown package to a customer as quickly as possible the logistics industry has had to rethink and rework the idea of warehouses, their size, their location, what goods they store, whether its robots and humans or robots only to pick and pack, and then what’s the next best step to the customer’s front door?
The industry’s answer seems to be multiple small warehouses, each no more than 50 miles from customer homes, which the industry tabbed micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs). Well, hold that thought for a second because *nano-fulfillment centers (NFCs) have just arrived.
*Micro-fulfillment refers to storage areas of 900 to 4000 sqm, while nano-fulfillment generally starts at 75 sqm (now even smaller at 30 sqm!).
An Israeli-based startup (2021) calling itself 1MRobotics has birthed the custom-made 30-square-meter (320 sq ft) nano warehouse, presided over by a single robot picking and packing orders as it moves back and forth on a double-track rail system. The teeny warehouse is fitted with a street-side hatch for couriers and shoppers to collect online orders.
1MRobotics emerged from stealth in late 2022 with $25 million for "nano-fulfillment" centers.
Eyal Yair, co-founder and CEO of 1MRobotics, thinks his last-mile fulfillment solution dramatically eases the pains of CPG (consumer packaged goods), convenience retail, and quick commerce brands getting to customers for same-day service…or sooner!
Yair is convinced that "hyper-local logistics infrastructure" like 1MRobotics’ automated, teeny warehouses will make supermarkets redundant.
Using most any off-the-shelf robot arms, which are then retrofitted by staff, these AI-powered robots, some lubricated to operate under frigid conditions, never see a human, except the ones who come to restock the shelves.
Picking robot pulls double duty in aisles
How about a mobile, e-commerce, piece-picking robot that works alone yet pulls off two jobs as it works?
Jan Zizka, CEO and co-founder of Brightpick (part of the Cincinnati-based Photoneo Brightpick Group), calls his robot a game-changing, first-ever at working warehouse SKUs. It not only picks items but also consolidates the entire order.
“Our patented Brightpick Autopicker is the most advanced fulfillment robot ever created,” he said.
Impressive is the mobile robot’s ability to take off for aisles crammed full of SKUs, pick orders, and not have to travel back and forth to centralized picking stations? The Brightpick Autopicker seems to be a loner that gets the entire job done!
And it’s highly accurate, so say its inventors; 99.9% accurate picking groceries, cosmetics, electronics, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and more. Its proprietary machine vision and advanced AI algorithms have been trained on more than 250 million picks to date and uses machine learning to improve with each pick.
Zizka and company claim the Brightpick fully autonomous, end-to-end robotic solution delivers a lower cost per pick than any other solution on the market. Putting all of those benefits together ultimately means fewer robots to fulfill orders, leading to reduced costs and improved return on investment. Major pain points at most any warehouse or DC.
Brightpick says the system (usually 10 to 100 robots) can be set up in a month, can reduce picking labor by 95%, and can cut costs for order fulfillment in half.
The three amigos behind Apotea’s new warehouse
In what could well be an ongoing automation partnership between AutoStore, Element Logic, and RightHand Robotics, Sweden’s award-winning online pharmacy, Apotea, has just debuted its newest warehouse, a 20,000-bin AutoStore AS/RS to pick, pack, and ship 50,000 orders per day.
It’s the first AutoStore installation to include RightPick, which is RightHand Robotics’s proprietary piece-picking technology. Leif Jentoft, co-founder and CSO of RightHand Robotics, said of the new partnership: “We believe this collaboration will establish a new benchmark for the intralogistics industry.”
RightHand’s tech is particularly adept at piece-picking small pharmaceutical and healthcare items. It’s been clocked at picking over 1200 per hour. Which, of course, is ideal for Apotea’s pharmacy shipments.
Added to its 20,000-bin warehouse, Apotea’s AS/RS runs on 30 AutoStore R5 robots, that operate 24/7. Included are three eOperator piece-picking robots, which were developed collaboratively by RightHand Robotics and Element Logic. The eOperator, says Element Logic, uses machine learning to “automatically select the best way to handle an item to be picked from AutoStore”, which it claims improves order capacity, goods handling, and delivery time.
Apotea’s warehouse is the first in the world to make use of fully-integrated eOperator robots.
Printing robot speeds building process
The newly-launched BIM construction printer is one of a new breed of digital construction robots that is speeding up an industry that is notoriously slow with building projects.
According to MarketWatch: “The global construction industry has a chronic productivity problem. Over the past 20 years, productivity has grown at only 1% annually, only around one-third the rate of the world economy and only around one-quarter of the rate in manufacturing.”
BIMPRINTER is a fully robotic high-definition plotter, tracing at laser millimeter accuracy right onto concrete slabs, all of the associated detail markings necessary for actual construction to begin.
For example, with a 15-story building, each floor has to be visited by an engineer so it can be marked up for proper positioning of walls, doorways, electrical conduits, air conditioning, elevators, rooms, closets, etc. Everything needs to be marked up floor by floor; it’s laborious, error-prone, and exceedingly slow. And obviously, the bigger the building, the longer it takes to mark up.
Now, a robotic printer from (Andenne, Belgium-based) BIMPRINTER can do the job autonomously in a fraction of the time it would take an engineer—working from paper blueprints—to spray-paint the markings on each floor.
BIM, by the way, stands for Building Information Modeling (BIM), “a technique where digital, 3D building designs and construction plans are used to guide and monitor construction processes.”
Construction workers now have a colorful guide applied directly to the entirety of each floor that shows exactly the work that needs to be done.
KUKA joins the AMR battles
KUKA, one of the world’s most well-known robot developers, threw its hat, history, and engineering prowess into the AMR ring with the recent debut of its KMP 600-S diffDrive.
Mightily crowded with nearly 200 developers vying for sales attention, AMRs (automated mobile robots) are by far the most explosive mobile robot category. As Interact Analysis put it: “At the end of 2020, mobile robots were deployed in just over 9,000 separate customer sites. By 2025, deployments will increase to over 53,000 sites.” The analyst goes on to say: “Over 4 million Mobile Robots Installed by Q4 2027.”
It's an AMR that KUKA’s parent company, China-based Medea, the leader in the production of home appliances, could also use in its estimated 1500 warehouses worldwide.
With a payload capacity of 600kg (1300 lbs.), the KMP 600-S was designed for high-speed support of intralogistics. The KMP 600-S safely operates using laser scanners and 3D object detection, picking out obstacles from 50mm (1.9in) to 2.1m (82.6in) above the ground.
Additionally, KUKA’s AMR is IP54 rated offering protection against contamination from dust and other particles, plus safety from water splashes from any direction.