Technology plays a monumental role in retail operations and logistics. So expect to see it out in force at eDelivery Expo (EDX16) next week. One of the exhibitors we’re looking forward to catching up and talking tech with at EDX16 is EiraTech, which will be giving a live demonstration of its latest robots.
You’ll find EiraTech at Stand J93. But ahead of the event, we spoke to EiraTech to find out what EDX16 visitors should expect from their robot demo.
eD: Tell us a bit about EiraTech.
EiraTech was established in Dublin in June 2014 by a group of entrepreneurs and engineers with a passion for robotics. We have strived to develop a ‘goods to person’ solution that meets the rapidly changing needs of ecommerce enterprises of all sizes. With current growth rates in the market and the increasing need of both retailers and 3PLs to compete in efficiency, accuracy and speed of delivery to the consumer, EiraTech has developed a complete automated picking solution for fulfilment operations both small and large that can expand and contract as required.
Our focus is very much on warehouse and logistics automation solutions and making robotics technology accessible to ecommerce enterprises of all sizes. Our solution doesn’t require any major infrastructural changes to existing warehouse sites, making it easier, quicker, and much more economical to install. We have developed a business model that allows suitable SME companies to access the technology without major upfront capital outlay, and that also takes account of the peaks and troughs of demand.
eD: What will you be showing and what role will robots play in the future of retail operations and logistics?
We are limited by our stand space in what we can get EiraBot to do during the show, but the robot will be on and moving about for the duration of our stay. As well as the EiraBot itself, what we also want to draw visitors’ attention to is the lack of any infrastructure on the stand – no rails, conveyors, etc. are required – and how easy it is to install.
The EiraBot is a high performing robot, and although it has an award winning design, it is only showing part of the solution and for people to understand the solution they will need to understand that these robots are part of a results driven solution that marries together hardware and software elements in a synergistic manner.
We have just completed the fourth generation design of the EiraBot, a robot which is one of the most efficient, quickest and automated mobile robots on the market. EiraBot’s role within our automation solution is to bring the relevant shuttle racks (shelving units) to the picking station in the correct sequence for each customer’s order to be filled in turn. This creates a constant ‘goods to person’ system via advanced software that connects any warehouse management system with EiraBot’s Robot Handling system. A wireless WiFi network, which is also supplied as part of the overall system, facilitates the communication between the robots and the server driving them
What makes our solution so compelling is that it doesn’t require the installation of any major infrastructure to operate. Most competing automated systems require rails, ramps and conveyors to be constructed in order to work – but EiraBot can find its way around simply by reading labels placed at strategic intervals around the warehouse or distribution centre. These labels, combined with our Robot Handling software, are at the heart of our system. This ‘lightness’ of infrastructure means the system is easier and quicker to install than those of our competitors, but it also means that it can easily be extended or moved, to grow and change with the needs of the merchant or operator.
eD: Is automation flexible enough to cope affordably with retail sector peaks?
Within the global logistics and e-fulfilment sector, the drive is on to deliver customers’ orders to them in as short a time as possible. Merchants are having to achieve high efficiencies in accuracy of order fulfilment, and speedy delivery to the consumer. Technology has enabled a lot more orders to be received and processed online. Coupled with this customer’s expectation have been raised to expect faster delivery of goods whether they need it or not. Will we get to a stage where customers will expect an umbrella delivered to them as soon as it starts to rain?
All this development at the front end of the purchase cycle has led to a bottle neck at the back end where the actual items must be stored, retrieved packed and delivered. Traditionally the solution has been to get extra floor staff to manage the extra demand, regardless of whether this is the most cost effective solution for the retailer or the best service for the customer.
People are and will continue to be vital to the success of these operations and even the most advanced robots cannot compete with humans on many levels. Where robots score well is when there is a constant repetition of a task that can be worked into a more efficient process. Research has verified that up to 70% of a picking operative’s time is spent either walking to get an item or looking for that item once the location has been found. It is specifically this wasted time that our solution targets and allows employees to get on with more productive tasks. By eliminating the waste a picker can increase their rate of pick over 6 fold while also increasing the accuracy of their picks.
Worldwide, the move towards use of robotics and automation in logistics and supply chain is widely recognised as the way forward, and the industry is turning to automation to remain competitive in greater numbers. According to the recent MHI 2016 Industry report for example, 74% of companies surveyed will adopt robotics in the supply chain within the next 6-10 years.
With many automated solutions it is true that retailers and 3PLs might end up with an asset either operating well below capacity, or well over it, depending on the system they set up. It is a very difficult equation to balance compounded by the length of time to install and the dynamic nature of the products they store and deliver.
EiraTech has been very conscious of this particular issue and have come up with a number of ways to accommodate the elastic nature of the e-fulfilment business. We don’t sell robots we sell a solution of which robots are only one, albeit vital, element. We look at what the client wants the system to do and then we provide the optimum number of robots, racks and picking stations to achieve that goal. It can be difficult for companies used to the capital intensive purchase model to get a quick understanding of how the model works, but what it does achieve is that companies can get a solution to a current problem now and that solution can grow with them.
Peak season is a traditional bug bear for the sector and most operations have a love hate relationship with it. They want the additional business it brings but not the headache of dealing with a 2-300% increase in their monthly operating figures. The EiraTech solution offers flexibility here to, and additional robots and racks can be added for peak season picking as well as the opportunity to run additional shifts without the labour costs usually associated with this.
‘Light’ infrastructural requirements and consequent ease of installation means our system’s floor space can easily be added to as required, or even taken up and moved elsewhere should that be required. Thus scalability, flexibility and transportability all ensure that there is no wasted capacity or missed opportunities.
Making the best use of your well trained personnel is at the heart of any logistics enterprise, so using automation and robots to literally ‘do the leg work’ in warehouses and distribution centre while operatives ensure the speedy and accurate packaging and dispatch of customers’ orders – a blend of the best of human and machine – is the way forward.
eD: Other than your own participation what else are you looking forward to from attending?
It’s a very exciting show, and the whole industry will be here, so we will certainly be spending time on the floor while we are here. We are certainly interested in seeing the latest offerings from the 3PL sector. This is a sector which has rapidly developed over just the last decade or so to meet the demand of internet shopping, so we will be interested to see how they meet increasingly short delivery expectations of the consumer and their customers. The panel discussion “Convenience v Flexibility v Free/Paid for Delivery and Returns – delving into the minds of the consumer to serve them better” looks like it will raise some interesting issues too in an industry which is driving to match the increasing ease of purchase by the consumer and a consequent high expectation of shorter delivery times.