More of this is bound to happen in warehouses and distribution centers everywhere more often: natural selection among best-in-breed mobile robotics.
Last year, KUKA spent $335 million to gain access to advanced mobile robotics and the chance for a toehold with the packaged goods industry served by Swisslog’s automated AutoStore goods-to-person picking solutions (AS/RS or automated storage and retrieval system).
Now, working together, KUKA and Swisslog are beginning the elimination process of the “goods-to-person” part of the picking equation with KUKA’s one-armed Automated Item Pick robot (actually KUKA’s LBR iiwa). Billed as a co-robot working with a human, it’s just a matter of time – and a short time at that – until the system evolves to be fully goods-to-robot.
That KUKA-Swisslog AS/RS system is now well positioned to access FORTE’s packaged goods clientele: the EU’s Beiersdorf, a $7 billion global skin care empire (Nivea, Eucerin, etc.), and Indexx pharmaceuticals, etc.
FORTE Industries, US-based consulting, systems integration and software technology firm also gets a much needed upgrade to advanced technology as well.
It recently designed and implemented a new 250,000 sq. ft. distribution center in West Chester, Ohio, for Beiersdorf, which, for all of its automation gains, is still far from the highly automated facilities that lay ahead for warehouses and DCs.
Mobile AS/RS robotics from vendors like Swisslog, SSI Schaefer, Intelligrated, OPEX, Dematic, and Daifuku represent the future, which are all goods-to-person systems. The Automated Item Pick robot looks to be a disruptor in that space.
Combine Swisslog’s AutoStore with KUKA’s Automated Item Pick robot – as they did at the Hanover Messe 2015 show (April 13-17) – and, presto, warehouse speed, productivity, and shipments to customer suddenly get a whole lot smoother and more profitable.
See related: Robotics and the “New” Supply Chain: 2015-2020
ABB didn’t have a one-armed robot like the Automated Item Pick (KUKA’s LBR iiwa) until last week (April 14) when it bought gomtec for its single-armed Roberta robot.
Dexterous, light-weight robot arms seem to be moving in as the end-of-line solution to the goods-to-person dilemma for logistics.
As robotics expert Ilian Bonev observes in his blog: the roots of gomtec (like those of KUKA’s LBR iiwa) lie in the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics. The company [gomtec] is owned by former DLR robot researcher Bernd Gombert, who is well known for his contributions in light-weight robots.
As the Cloud, digitization, the Internet of Things, multichannel logistics, big data, and the demise of proprietary WMS software settle in to stay as regular players in the manufacture, movement and purchase of all goods, mobile robotics and 3D printing are emerging as the only boots-on-the-ground necessities for all factories and warehouses.
KUKA calls it Industry 4.0 technology.
SWISSLOG’S PRESS RELEASE called the acquisition a “Win-win situation” for Swisslog and FORTE. It sure looks that way!
“Throughout the acquisition and leadership change, FORTE and Swisslog customers will remain the top priority. We are convinced that the combination of Swisslog and FORTE will deliver significant benefits to our customers that are far beyond the individual offerings. In addition, the acquisition will support Swisslo’s market strategy and particularly its positioning in the e-commerce and multichannel segments,’ said Markus Schmidt, President Swisslog Warehouse & Distribution Solutions North America.”
No financial terms were disclosed.