As more companies in the warehousing and distribution center space turn to autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to deploy systems to improve speed and efficiency, as well as address worker labor shortages, robotics companies may find themselves needing to make partnerships to assist with these deployments. HighJump Software, which develops warehouse management and other software for customers, plans on creating a robotics services division that will assist its customers and robot companies with AMR deployments.
The company recently hired John Santagate as its new vice president of robotics to help implement this new effort. Santagate, a former analyst at IDC (and partner with Robotics Business Review on the RBR50 program), will create a program where HighJump partners with multiple robotics companies to provide customers with solutions for their warehouse automation efforts. Santagate said he expects to announce these partners before the end of the year.
Partners to help scale
“Many of our customers who had traditionally been in manual warehouse operations were looking to add some type of automation,” said Chad Collins, CEO of HighJump Software. “But there weren’t that many looking to invest $200 million to go do warehouses to achieve that level of automation. A nice in-between step for many of those customers was to add autonomous mobile robots.” As the company continued talking with customers, Collins said they observed that many of the robot manufacturers were startups with very innovative technology, but they were focused on the technology and scaling their operations.
“The customer demand was sometimes surpassing their ability to hire people and do the projects that have the value for the customers,” said Collins. “We have hundreds of people that have the unique combination of knowing warehouse processes, as well as the software expertise that really drives a lot of the robots. So we thought we could help our customers and some of the robot suppliers if we went into the business of doing integration services around autonomous mobile robots.”
Collins added that robot manufacturers are doing a very nice job of implementing robotics today for their customers, but that he was thinking about future growth and deployments. “I think this market is scaling so quickly,” he said. “When the market grows faster than you’re able to onboard and train services resources, it’s often a case where you look for channel partners to assist in that. It’s not a reflection of the current state, but what I anticipate to happen is the robot manufacturers are going to need channel partners to help them just with the sheer volume based on market growth.”
Labor shortage for robot companies
Santagate said a lot of the robot companies themselves are facing labor shortage issues to find and hire workers to assist with robotics deployments.
“When you look at the rapid growth in the robotics industry, they’re facing the exact same thing [as supply chain companies], where they’re all fighting for the same pool of talented labor,” said Santagate. “What HighJump delivers is a good depth of resources and existing knowledge of warehousing and systems integration that we can leverage to support those companies as they grow to offset the labor challenges that they are facing as well.”
He added that a majority of the time spent on deploying a warehouse robot system is on the software side – both on the robot as well as integrating robots into a company’s warehouse management or execution system. “It’s working within the software to define the work, to find the flow path, the work processes, the packages, and then the integration,” Santagate said. “So it does skew quite heavily to the software integration side as opposed to a hardware deployment. This is a stark difference to traditional automation, with building in fixed infrastructure that can take years.”
HighJump Software is part of Körber Logistics Systems, which itself is a business unit of the Körber AG holding company, based in Hamburg, Germany. Other companies within the Körber ecosystem include Aberle Software, Cirrus Logistics, DMLogic, Inconso, and Voltech.
Collins said Körber’s September 2019 acquisition of the Cohesio Group, an Australian provider of voice-controlled and robotics software solutions for logistics in the Asia Pacific region, would also benefit HighJump and its AMR integration services. Cohesio has a partnership with Geek+, which has deployed several AMRs in the region.
“There’s also quite a bit of expertise in about six deployments of AMRs in the Asia Pacific region that Cohesio has done,” said Collins. “We’re bringing some of that knowledge and expertise from the Cohesio Group to our global team in terms of how to do AMR deployments, and a very strong continued pipeline of AMR projects for the Cohesio Group in the Asia Pacific region.”
Unique value with partnerships
Collins said the company expected to have a list of three to five robotics company partners by the end of the year, with the goal of adding variety of designs, workflows or processes that the robots could achieve.
“We’re looking to have a variety of partners that provide some unique value propositions so we can really cover the broad range of workflows and material automation processes within the warehouses of our customers,” said Sean Elliott, the CTO at HighJump. “The portfolio will be somewhat overlapping in some areas, but diverse in others. I would also expect we would learn pretty quickly whether those three to five are the right long-term partners, or whether a broader portfolio is required.”
Collins said he sees the integration services offering as a competitive advantage to other companies in the warehouse software space and even other systems integrators. “Our hypothesis is that our traditional competitors are going to stay a little bit more focused purely on the software,” said Collins. “We’re going to go a bit deeper into the integration of the robots, and in the end that’s going to be better for our customers.”
In addition, working with partners on deployments is also seen as an advantage over systems integrators, he added. “Our willingness to partner with multiple participants gives us an edge over a more traditional systems integrator that doesn’t have the relationship, and is maybe seen as a more biased participant based upon the desire to sell the metal,” said Collins. “We will sell the metal, as far as it pertains to the robots themselves, but by focusing very specifically and very narrowly, we gain a bit more of an unbiased stance on the market for our customers.”