“Labor shortages, inventory snarls, inflation, and a tightening economy are just a few of the challenges retailers and suppliers face right now. We asked experts from robotics and automation companies to weigh in on how their technologies can help. Here’s what they told us.”
-DC Velocity Editorial Director, David Maloney
Q: How does a company without much automation begin the robotics journey?
A: Nicolas Chee – ForwardX: A company without much or any automation can start with collaborative robots that don’t drastically change existing processes, so operators and staff can adapt with ease. Robotics is becoming even more accessible for companies with new purchase models, such as our RaaS [Robots as a Service] model that essentially allows them to rent robots on a monthly basis. Quick deployment allows new companies to begin their robotics journeys without any downtime in their operations. It also lets them scale up or down for peak and trough seasons.
Q: What is being done to improve integration of robotics with other automation and warehouse systems?
A: Nicolas Chee – ForwardX: The robotics industry is continuously evolving to meet our customers’ needs. Every new project gives us and our software engineers more experience with slightly different products, workflows, etc. As more companies adopt this type of technology and see the results for themselves, naturally they’ll be more inclined to integrate other forms of automation in the future. For robotics to continue growing, it must be able to integrate with other automation and warehouse systems. We’re already deploying projects where our AMRs work alongside robotic arms, AS/RS systems, conveyor belts, and put walls or pick-to-light systems. ForwardX’s f(x) Fleet Manager can also already be integrated with a customer’s existing WMS system. I can only expect these types of collaborations to continue for us and the industry at large.
Q: Do customers look for a particular return-on-investment (ROI) on their automation investments? How do they sell the ROI to decision makers?
A: Nicolas Chee – ForwardX: Most companies are renting the warehouses they operate in, and leases tend to be around 5 years, so ROI needs to be less than 3 years for most to even consider investing in automation. We’ve deployed in about 100 warehouses now where we have been able to exceed that expectation. To make the decision easier, we’ve added a RaaS model that essentially delivers an ROI every month. When comparing the cost of renting a robot to the savings on overall operational costs, it just makes sense to go with automation.
Q: Many projects today have long lead times. Are robotics projects also delayed or can they be deployed more quickly?
A: Nicolas Chee – ForwardX: The way our solution operates makes for an incredibly short lead and deployment time. The software and coding behind an AMR solution can be largely copy and pasted between projects. After deploying in about 100 warehouses now, each new project makes the next even faster. Our average deployment period is about 1 month, but we’ve had some cases where it has only taken 7 days. On top of a quick deployment, during the week or month that it takes, a company doesn’t need to halt its operations to prepare for an AMR solution.