A significant number of companies have developed systems for automating warehouse operations – both in the area of software and hardware.
But while Amazon has taken the lead in warehouse automation by building its massive logistics operation around the Kiva Systems robots it acquired, other companies are catching up.
Many of the new warehouse robots being released by new companies can do what Amazon’s Kiva robot does, in that it can, basically, move things around a warehouse.
The details of each system can be omitted from this article since this is just a roundup of as many robotics and automation technologies as we can find in the area of logistics and supply chain.
Actually, it’s more supply chain, as that involves warehouse operations. Logistics can encompass the same thing, but then so too can supply chain. Luckily, industry jargon is also beyond the scope of this article.
Basically, we’re talking about warehouse robotics and automation.
We have not specifically made a distinction between automated and autonomous vehicles, but many companies are developing both.
Also, we have excluded Amazon Kiva from the list because it is not available to the general market.
But we have included some software towards the end because often that is what brings the whole system together, within a warehouse and beyond.
Kuka is, of course, famous for making industrial robotic arms seen in many factories around the world. But in the last year or so, the company has shown a growing interest in adding different types of robots to its range. The Kuka KMP 1500 – a mobile robotic platform vehicle for warehouses – is one of those robots.
Another company better known for building industrial robotic arms, Comau recently released its own mobile robotic platform vehicle for warehouses, the Agile 1500. This is the first model within the company’s automated guided vehicles range.
The people behind this company – one of whom was NextShift CEO Mary Ellen Sparrow – are the ones who developed Harvest Automation’s autonomous vehicle, which was specifically aimed at the agriculture sector. NextShift, which specialises in this type of robot, developed the concept and now offers the TM-100 to a wide range of industries for their warehouse operations.
Omron is a huge, sprawling and complex industrial automation company with a massive range of products, so its Mobile Robot LD is a relatively small part of its global operation. Nonetheless, it’s an important enough technology that Omron has established a separate website for the autonomous vehicle.
This company specialises in developing automation solutions warehouses and e-fulfilment centres, and describes its EiraBot mobile robot as “one of the best performing, most efficient and safest” robotic vehicles on the logistics market.
This machine is different from the others on this list in some obvious ways. First of all, it is larger, and looks like a shelf unit in part. The way it works is different as well, and the company may have very specific markets in mind.
This startup has developed a warehouse vehicle which it claims is “the only goods-to-box logistics”. The inVia bot LD is already working away in Rakuten warehouses and in other facilities, deals which inVia CEO Lior Elazary would have been working on when we interviewed him.
Fetch Robotics is probably the most well-known warehouse robotics and automation solutions provider. The company recently expanded its VirtualConveyor range of Fetch autonomous mobile robots with the addition of CartConnect and RollerTop robots.
Clearpath is another really well-known company. It produces a relatively large range of autonomous vehicles for a variety of different settings. For the industrial sector, it has developed two mobile platforms under the model name Otto, not to be confused with Uber’s Otto driverless trucks.
Despite being a relatively new technology, Aethon has somehow managed to become an established part of many hospitals. Last year, the company was acquired by ST Engineering and its Tug mobile robots can increasingly be found lounging around in hotels.
A rather sophisticated-looking robot which features an arm as well as a mobile platform, IAM’s mobile picking robot – or rather its underlying Swift Solution Suite – was awarded a patent for its invention towards the end of last year. The complete system is likely to be available to the wider market some time this year.
6 River Systems
Established by some of the people behind the original Kiva Systems, before it was acquired by Amazon for more than $775 million, 6 River Systems raised $25 million for its warehouse robotics journey. The first product, Chuck, is said to offer pick rates that are two or three times faster than systems of the past.
A relatively long-established company in this space, Grenzebach provides automated guided vehicle system. It has also expanded into robotics, which has seen the company develop autonomous tuggers, forklifts and robotic arms on mobile platforms. It’s a company we should feature on this site at some point.
Another company we haven’t much featured on this site – except for mentioning them in passing for developing quite impressive-looking warehouse robots. There’s only so much we can do – we’re a small team, it’s hot, the air conditioning isn’t working, the internet’s down, the coffee’s run out, the dog ate my notes, and the aliens are interfering with galactic communication signals affecting our powers of concentration.
Seegrid makes warehouse robots that look similar to those we have seen on Balyo, although they probably have many technical differences that we don’t know about. Seegrid’s robots now have a new API which is said to make fleet management easier and more efficient.
Plus One Robotics
Plus One Robotics has been in stealth mode for some time while it develops an advanced, vision-based picking system. This is something that is proving far more difficult than the average person might appreciate if they don’t know how complex human movements are when they are converted to zeros and ones.
Swisslog has featured on this site a few times because of various reasons. For one, it was acquired by Kuka, and then won an important contract with large, Asian logistics company Yusen. The Swisslog CarryPick system – which is basically an autonomous mobile platform – is now being developed jointly with Kuka.
This is a company we have mentioned as part of larger features, such as our review of the Deliver e-logistics event, but it probably deserves more highlighting since its technology is often part of a larger package that is supplied by other companies, like Swisslog, for example. Basically, it’s a new type of automated storage and retrieval system, or ASRS inn industry parlance.
GreyOrange appears to be locked in battle, in Asia at least, with Geek Plus Robotics. Both are ambitious startups and both are enjoying tremendous success. GreyOrange has recently launched Butler PickPal for what it describes as “auto-fulfilment” in logistics centres.
Quietly doing good business in some obscure corner of Europe is BlueBotics, which towards the end of last year launched a new version of its Ant autonomous vehicle guidance system. As well as that software, the company has developed its own hardware, called Mini, which it says is suitable for cleanrooms and light logistics.
Serva Transport Systems
This is a company that worked with automotive giant Audi to develop a robot that can pick up a regular family-sized car clean off the ground and move it and park it where it is required. The robot, called Ray, has won awards and the team behind it is said to be “obsessively improving” the system.
Vecna is another of the more well-known names on this list and appears to using its influence and technology to build partnerships with key companies, such as Topper Industrial and RightHand Robotics. Vecna’s mobile robots recently won a DHL logistics automation competition.
Mobile Industrial Robots
Mobile Industrial Robots has been the subject of many headlines recently, partly because the Danish company was acquired by US industrial giant Teradyne, which also bought the other famous Danish robotics company, Universal Robots. MiR has released a new, heavy-load carrying intralogistics robot, the MiR 500, and specialises in this type of robot, according to its CEO, Thomas Visti.
Geek Plus Robotics
Geek Plus Robotics has been busy fulfilling orders from customers who often need a lot of guidance on how to actually implement robots in their operation. The company has recently added to its product range with a mobile robot – called the S20 – that has a bit of a conveyor belt attached to its top.
Kivnon is a long-established provider of intralogistics solutions and is favoured by the large companies, many of which are automakers such as Seat, which is part of the Volkswagen Group, of course. In an interview with this website, Kivnon’s commercial director, Rob Keij, talked about the new robotics and artificial intelligence technologies the company has developed.
Effidence appears to have developed a strong partnership with DHL. The company has supplied a number of robots for the logistics giant’s warehouses as well as its other operations, including the delivery of Formula E motor cars. Denis Niezgoda, robotics accelerator lead at DHL, gave this website an insight into the company’s thinking about automation.
This company used to be called Stanley Robotics. With the name change has come numerous new technology launches, in software as well as hardware. It has also developed an innovative wireless charging system for robots with the help of WiBotic. The Waypoint Vector is probably the most suitable vehicle for warehouses.
Another of big names, Locus was one of the very early entrants into this market after Kiva disappeared into the Amazon empire. The company recently released the third generation of its navigation system – called Puffin – for its robots.
If we’re going to include a company like AutoStore on here, we should also mention Daifuku Wynright, the world’s largest material handling company. Daifuku Wynright has an ASRS called Shuttle Rack which is tremendously successful and its conveyor systems are probably the leaders on the global market. Giovanni Stone, director at Wynright Robotics, gave us an insight into the colossal company.
Warehouse management systems
And just to round off the 30 – or thereabouts – we should mention warehouse management systems in general, the software. We did an article about them recently, which lists a few of the leading providers of what is now standard software in the industry.
Read the full article in Robotics and Automation News.