When Warehouse Technology mixes AMR & Humans
In an unassuming white building located in the middle of Kiba Koen, Tokyo sits the office of Rapyuta Robotics employing 100 people from 20 different countries. Rapyuta also has a Bangalore, India office.
Since the first apparition of the Novel Corona Virus, fluctuating consumer demand over the last year has stretched transportation networks to their limits. With capacity expected to remain tight for the foreseeable future, supply chain executives undertake to move their freight and store their goods in some of the most challenging conditions in history.
Meeting or exceeding ambitious productivity goals leaves no space for error; everything, particularly staffing, must be carefully prepared and implemented. Maintaining staffing ratios, on the other hand, is a constant struggle. Employee attrition, sick days, and other unplanned absences all face a relentless risk of business interruption. High churn doesn’t only hinder the ability to meet goals and increase top-line revenue, it also escalates prices, eroding already slim margins. Because of the costs and resources involved in recruiting, hiring, and training new hires, there remains a fierce competition for the small labor pool. The ever-increasing turnover problem dogs logistics operations. However, this is changing.
Robotics have a realistic, effective strategy for maintaining consistent efficiency, avoiding delays to vital workflows, and combating one of the leading causes of employee turnover. Robots don’t need to take daily breaks, weekends, phone in sick, or leave. There is no exhaustion or a drop in morale as their transition progresses, nor is there any aversion to working non-traditional hours. Robots perform in accordance with their programming, hour after hour, day or night.
Rapyuta Robotics aims to handle the entire logistics related with robots, and is also developing automatic forklifts, but currently, the business that we are particularly focusing on is using autonomous mobile human collaboration in the area of peace picking. It is the introduction of robots (AMR: Autonomous Mobile Robot). Unlike AGVs (Automatic Guided Vehicles), which are generally used in factories and warehouses, AMR does not require the laying of guide tapes for movement, and it is an environment where there are people walking around, and robots are also available. It refers to a robot that can move with a mixture of people.
The AMR provided by Rapyuta Robotics is a tire-moving robot with a total height of 140 cm that autonomously travels in a warehouse at a top speed of 1.4 meter per second using multiple types of sensors such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). It is equipped with a two-tiered rack that can hold two folding containers, and a scanner used for picking products and a display is mounted on top of it. Safety measures for autonomous driving have been firmly established in the warehouse.
The open source platform rapyuta.io allows users to work with any hardware. This means that the users can choose the components they need, in the quantities they need and when they need them, without being “vendor lock-on” to a particular hardware manufacturer.
Rapyuta AMR has high flexibility and scalability
- Flexibility in the warehouse environment
- the system can be installed without changing the layout of the warehouse and can respond immediately to map changes.
- Flexibility to cope with volume fluctuations
- Even if the volume of goods exceeds the capacity of the robot, it can cope with it by using it together with normal picking.
- Flexibility against seasonal fluctuations
- The monthly subscription model makes it possible to rent the robot for short periods during the high season.
The major advantages of introducing this robotics system are
- Improved picking productivity through reduced walking time. (On an actual basis, productivity has doubled.)
- Shorter training period for temp workers because Unique user guidance system and user friendly interface
- Reduced workload by eliminating the need to carry heavy carts
The company started as a venture spun off from the ETH Zurich, initially engaged in drones, but since 2018 has focused on logistics. The selling point is “rapyuta.io”, a cloud robotics platform that integrates and controls multiple robots and various sensors. Robots can be optimally controlled in cooperation with WMS, which manages warehousing and delivery of the entire warehouse, inventory management, and location management.
I caught up with Mr. Kobori as we discussed the warehouse technology provided by Rapyuta.
1- Why choose Rapyuta?
Having worked for many years in the field of SCM and Logistics in a global consulting firm, foreign retail, Amazon, etc., I always felt that the problem of SCP and manpower shortage is an area of business where technological evolution, especially robotics technology, is most needed. I was introduced to Rapyuta by a recruiter and joined the company because I saw great potential in the RAAS business concept and the io platform technology that makes it possible.
2- How do you evaluate ROI?
We measure and evaluate ROI through a number of steps. Firstly, we take a rough measurement from previous projects, based on the performance results of existing customers with similar requirements, taking into account the profile of the new customer. Then, when we receive a request for a more detailed measurement of the effectiveness of the system, we perform a quantitative measurement using a simulator. We are able to take the same software algorithms used in production and run them in a simulated environment that replicates the same map as the customer’s warehouse. In this context, we are able to output several scenarios to see how much productivity improvement can be expected if we simply implement the system without changing the current warehouse layout and processes, and how many robots and how many workers would be the best combination. In addition, using a what if approach, we can constructively discuss with the customer what is needed to maximize the performance of the robots by presenting results such as “if we widened the aisles by 30 cm, we would get this result” or “if we changed the layout of the stock, we would get this result”. We can then constructively discuss with the customer what is needed to maximize the performance of the robot.
3- Are the Rapyuta AMR able to conduct inventory count? Any other capabilities?
Not yet. However, using our base technology, which allows the robot to drive autonomously along an optimal path through multiple locations, it is relatively easy to expand the range of applications.
For example, picking and replenishment are complementary processes, and there are many examples of the same worker performing both tasks, so we are working on a roadmap for the replenishment process. The same mechanism can be used for inventory count as well.
4- How do you see the market growth over the next few years?
According to Deloitte, the global professional service robot industry grew at 30% from 2019 to 2020 and we expect this trend will continue for the foreseeable future, because robotics just started for high adaptation. Historically, the manufacturing industry has attracted the majority of investment for automation, but now the logistics industry is attracting high attention because they are suffering from labor shortage and rising labor cost given the aging population which is a common phenomenon in developed countries. So the expected growth rate in the logistics industry would be even higher than the market average.
5-What is the future for robots in the warehouse?
As the business environment changes, so will the time and space requirements of warehousing, and robotics will need to be able to adapt to these changes. For example, flexibility in the allocation of people and robots according to operational priorities, scalable systems that can be easily scaled up and down according to changes in the volume of goods, and that can be used on demand for the time and number of units required. etc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wayne Yoshida, aka Supply Chain Wayne™, is the Business Director for the executive search consultancy FocusCore Japan. Based in Tokyo, leaders in Supply Chain Management, Logistics and Transportation trust Wayne for difficult-to-fill and C-Suite searches. Originally from Quebec, Canada, he has called Tokyo home for the past 15 years.
He serves on the Board of the International Propellor Club Japan (IPCJ) and as Editor for “The 50 Words App” and “CARGONOW.world.” As a proud father of three children, he is teaching them the joys of the transportation industry with his soon-to-be-released, “Connor the Container”, based on the real-life adventures of an ocean container.