Interest in learning more about autonomous mobile robots was high among attendees at the Elevate 2020 conference here last week, as companies involved in warehouses or the supply chain look for ways to address labor shortages, improve efficiencies and meet demand from e-commerce initiatives.
The annual event is hosted by HighJump Software, and attracts users and potential customers of its warehouse management and other software offerings. At the show, the company announced that HighJump will become Körber Supply Chain, integrating with Aberle, Aberle Software, Cirrus Logistics, The Cohesio Group, Consoveyo, DMLogic, inconso, Otimis, Langhammer, Riantics and Voiteq. In addition to session tracks providing information and updates on software, the Elevate event offered sessions covering the use of robotics within warehouse, logistics and supply chain scenarios.
The company also announced a new partnership with Fetch Robotics as part of its integration services offering, which was announced last year. The new partnership makes Körber a global reseller, advisor, and integrator of Fetch’s AMRs and cloud robotics software. The addition of Fetch now expands Körber’s integration partners, which includes Locus Robotics. Additional partnerships are expected as the company grows its program, Körber officials said.
“Over the course of the last three months, the customer interactions have really ticked up,” said John Santagate, vice president of robotics at HighJump Software. “The customers I’m talking to are very enthusiastic – they like to see that not only do we know their environment, we now have this competence that extends the capabilities of our organization within their organization. This approach can extend our ability to be a good partner for those customers by adding a technology that fits into what they need to do.”
Company officials said many of their customers were exploring adding robotics to their processes – a recent survey indicated about 74% of customers would be making an investment in automated material handling within the next five years. “We’re at that inflection point where what we’re seeing is the first swell of momentum,” said Sean Elliott, CTO of HighJump. “What you see here at Elevate is customers are going and visiting all of the roboticists. But now that they know what we’re doing, the commentary is we know we need someone to help us with this, to understand where Locus fits, where Fetch fits, etc. It’s not just about vendor selection, it’s about bringing that technology in a practically valuable fashion into a supply chain operation.”
As part of the Elevate expo floor area, attendees could visit with officials from Locus Robotics, Fetch Robotics, Vecna Robotics, IAM Robotics, Next Shift Robotics, 6 River Systems, Zebra Technologies and Honeywell, among other software companies. During the robotics track, several officials from those companies provided additional educational sessions for attendees. Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise, for example, spoke at a session giving a basic tutorial about AMRs, and the differences between these systems and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), as well as the technologies that help drive the robots.
Several case study sessions were presented showing how robots integrated with customer implementations. Richard Evans, the CEO of iWMS, detailed an implementation of GreyOrange Butler robots at a site operated by Gold Bond Conterm in Israel. Officials from The Cohesio Group, part of Körber Supply Chain, detailed best practices for optimizing robots as part of its Geek+ installations in Australia. Dean Hoerlein, vice president of warehousing at Verst Logistics, provided an interesting case study of how Locus Robotics assisted the Kentucky-based logistics firm with an implementation that automated fulfillment processes for another client that had faced 11-day order cycle times during peak periods with a previous logistics firm.
The final session within the robotics track was a vendor panel, in which several robotics companies agreed that integration and interoperability between different robotics systems will need to be addressed as more companies deploy robotics within their organizations. Earlier in the event, HighJump showcased a demonstration where two companies integrated on a process – a Fetch robot was able to deliver boxes to a Locus robot, which could then deliver it to an attendee. HighJump also demonstrated an integration with its voice command software, triggering a robot to deliver water bottles during one of the sessions.
During several of the sessions, attendees said they were interested in learning more about robotics, but were also very interested in learning about the differences between AMRs and AGVs. In addition, some attendees were interested in learning about cold storage options for robots, in which an AMR could navigate within a refrigerated or freezer to deliver materials. Most of the speakers said this could be possible, but that the big issue with robots here is the transition between a cold environment and room temperature environment, which would fog up sensors on the robots. However, transition-type processes where robots could stay in one environment and other robots could be in the other environment were also possible, at least one speaker said.