How Will Robots Transform The Smart Warehouse

Robotics and automation will make an incremental contribution towards the rapid industrial revolution and bring the current Indian manufacturing practices at par with global standards

GreyOrange is a multinational technology company that designs, manufactures and deploys advanced robotics systems for automation at warehouses, distribution and fulfillment centers. The company is helping customers leap forward by simplifying business processes and enhancing productivity to unprecedented levels.

GreyOrange witnessed an early success with e-commerce and logistics industries. They have been early adopters of robotic automation in their warehouses. The company’s marquee solutions Butler (a goods-to-person robotics solution, powered by Artificial Intelligence, for inventory management and order fulfillment.) and Sorter (advanced software and robotic sortation system for order profiling, routing and consolidation in fulfilment and distribution centers) are catering to customers across industries and geographies to increase efficiency multi-fold and improve last mile delivery.

Today, GreyOrange’s marquee solutions Butler and Sorter are being deployed at e-commerce, omni-channel retail, CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) and logistics industries to help them increase efficiency multi-fold and improve last mile delivery and break bulk cargo process. There are immense opportunities for industrial automation in India, given that the current level of automation remains limited as compared to that of other markets like USA and China. Apart from the sectors mentioned above, there will be immense demand for robotic automation in sectors such as automobile and healthcare/pharmaceuticals in the coming years.

How GreyOrange Has Used AI to Automate Inventory Management

Artificial intelligence enabled robots are designed to demonstrate human like decision-making capabilities. These robots are able to react to various expected/unexpected situations. The reaction also improves with time and experience with capabilities to learn from their usage patterns.

The GreyOrange Butler helps accelerate order fulfillment and inventory replenishment time, reduce stock losses and pilferage by tracking inventory in real-time. Use of AI controls the inventory levels, supports FIFO (First in First out) and FMFO (First Manufactured First Out) or even understands seasons to predict orders resulting in a faster turnaround time. This improves the operator picking efficiency multi-fold.

“Our customers realize the importance of robotic automation to address seasonal peaks and improve operator efficiency. Automation ensures predictability and real-time data tracking that help them manage inventory and minimize errors and losses.

For instance, many of our 3PL customers, have adopted the robotic automation technology, to enhance their fulfilment efficiency and accuracy of orders from retailers and e-commerce players with GreyOrange’s Butler. With this, real-time sales orders are transmitted to the robots which bring goods to the operator at the pick-put-station, post which the warehouse management system indicates the item to be picked by using Pick-Put-To-Light(PPTL) system. This not only has improved the picking accuracy, but has also helped our customers improve their pick rates manifold,” said Vikrant Yadav, Country Manager, GreyOrange.

Deployment Challenges faced by the company

Warehouses, not only in India, but across the world have remained technologically starved for years. They were simply godowns crippled with traditional set ups and processes. This led to high operational cost and lead time, wrong shipments that required reverse logistics, and inaccurate documentation. “In the past few years, with e-commerce booming, the pressure increased on warehouses to adopt advanced robotics technology to ensure high productivity and faster delivery. Now, we are in the phase where these primitive godowns are turning into smarter warehouses, fulfilment and distribution centers. They will be equipped with new technologies such as AI and robotic process automation to maintain the competitive advantage to keep up with the growing volumes of orders every day. Further, technologies will enable inter-warehouse communication where each warehouse will understand the working of the other warehouse and will look for cost-effective ways to ensure quicker deliveries and minimize operating inefficiencies,” he said.

The company started with identifying one industry that had been technologically starved for years, and where automation could play an impactful role: warehouse. Each customer came up with specific challenges and problems. “Our solutions, hence, were not force fitted into a warehouse but were customized to meet these specific requirements. Thus, our technology is adaptable and scalable to suit requirements of any warehouse,” he said.

“Some specific deployment challenges that the company faced include the adverse conditions in which these warehouses operate. Since most warehouses in India are not air conditioned and are exposed to dust; our challenge was to create such a barcode reader that would function perfectly in such conditions. The barcode readers were made with barcode protectors so that dust couldn’t stick to the scanning surface. Another instance was engineering the right conveyer belts that would work on high speed and have a longer lifespan to ensure efficient sorting of up to 6000 packets/hour,” he added.

With Goods and Services Tax (GST) – a single tax head, India has now become ‘one market’ and the ease of doing business will improve immensely. Large Enterprises, SMEs and end consumers, everyone will benefit from the simplified tax regime. The maximum impact of the implementation of GST will be on the supply chain, as this will enable companies to finally optimize their supply chain networks based on scientific principals and logic, instead of disparate tax structures across the country which has been the case so far.

“As GST subsumes a range of central and state taxes to turn India into a single market, it removes all variations in local taxation rates that once forced businesses to operate multiple warehouses across states. Companies can look to have large, state-of-the-art warehouses as a result of consolidation, between four and 10 times the size of the current facilities. To operate such facilities efficiently and reliably, businesses will need more than just trained manpower. This is where GreyOrange products play an important role- to automate the warehouses in order to make these more efficient and accurate. Here we are speaking about millions of packets being shipped every day! For businesses, our products will offer a clear cost benefit in terms of leaner inventory, eliminating the need to duplicate or triplicate the inventory on stock, rather than storing what will actually be dispatched or consumed,” he added.

How automation of warehouse helps in creating value for end-users

“Imagine your favorite accessories arriving before time because you selected the option of same day delivery or delivery within four hours! You may not know that before reaching your doorstep, your order would exchange several hands and pass through multiple touch points. So, if your package arrives on time or before, the credit goes to the logistics management of the company. Now imagine thousands of such orders to be delivered within the same day! Such is the value that GreyOrange’s robotics automation solutions offer. Automation of processes like outbound profiling, sortation and sub-sortation to the last mile, order fulfilment and tracking real time inventory helps your order to reach you when you want it,” he said.

In today’s day and age, the consumer defines the product. The customer now wants his/her product to be entirely customized as per his/her needs. An order may comprise several parts and to ensure customization, it is crucial to automate warehouses to make them operate effectively and efficiently. Today, increasingly, consumer needs have started defining technologies that eventually drive warehouse and supply chain management.

Market opportunity for robotics in India

According to The World Robotics Federation, the number of robots working in the factories around the world will be more than double to reach about 2.3 million by 2018. Further, Gartner identifies AI and advanced machine learning as one of the top strategic technology trends in 2017. It forecasts that the next decade will see virtually every application and service incorporate some level of AI and machine learning, giving rise to a spectrum of intelligent implementations including robotics.

According to The Ken Research, Indian market for industrial automation projected to grow at a CAGR of 10-12% during 2015-2020, is expected to touch $3.49 billion by 2020. Moreover, India is touted to be one of the key markets for industrial robotic systems in the APAC region as it will attract OEMs across the globe to set up their manufacturing units due to its low cost of production.

According to Yadav, industrial robots have been around for a few decades now with industries like automotive, making it an unprecedented leader in adoption of advanced automation technology. India’s rapid progress in the automotive sector and its evolution as an innovation hub for small cars compelled the use of automation technologies at their assembly lines. Other early adopters of automation in India are the players in the energy, oil and gas sectors owing to their complex and hazardous manufacturing processes. The entry of robotics in the other sectors has been rather slow and sporadic, however new verticals such as e-commerce, FMCG, Retail and Pharmaceuticals are gradually adopting robotics systems to move up the value chain. As India is in its pursuit to become one of the preferred manufacturing destinations, current manufacturing practices are already paving the way for innovation in and adoption of smarter systems and robotic automation across sectors.

Yadav concluded by saying that robotics and automation will make an incremental contribution towards the rapid industrial revolution and bring the current Indian manufacturing practices at par with global standards. Robotics will help link real-life factories with virtual reality and thus, making them smarter. Government policies like Make in India and Smart City Mission are spearheading this journey. The adoption of advanced manufacturing trends, coupled with robotics, AI and machine learning will foster an ecosystem for smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0.

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