34. A Warehouse Robot Model for Every Distributor?

Have you considered a warehouse robot for your distribution business? This is becoming an increasingly attractive cost-saving solution, especially for high-volume, small-pick areas. Take a look at these two references for breakthrough news:

  1. This Bloomberg article from June 29th talking about a robot arms race in the distribution world
  2. This short video and other informative articles on the Locus Robotics site

WAREHOUSE BOTS AND ME SINCE 2009

Full disclosure: I was lucky to be able to invest in Quiet Logistics, Inc. (QL) when it started up in early 2009. I was attracted to the story of two serial entrepreneurs from the warehouse management software (WMS) world that had a next-step vision: Why not marry their WMS expertise with Kiva System’s warehouse robots to provide 3PL warehouse fulfillment for e-commerce retailers?

Since then, I’ve been following QL’s solid progress and writing occasionally on warehouse robot economics (Google: “Merrifield + Kiva”). The storyline for QL exploded in 2012 when Amazon (AMZ) bought Kiva Systems and took 100% of their robot production for their own warehouses. Today, AMZ has 30,000 Kiva robots in 100 of their warehouses, reducing total costs by 20% and reducing order turnaround times.

So, what would you do with a business built around buying more Kiva robots when Amazon:

  • Takes your bot source away
  • Becomes your biggest competitor with their “Fulfillment by Amazon” service
  • And, continues to massively outspend you on a Kiva-paradigm experience

QL INVENTS A BETTER-BOT SOLUTION!

QL’s incremental logic was:

  • We’re still experts in WMS for every environment imaginable
  • We can test all other bot options in our multi-tenant warehouses
  • We understand that the dream bot solution doesn’t exist
  • We have learned that Kiva robots need their own, total environment and can’t yet fully replace humans
  • So, why not let humans do the visual picking and the robots do the legwork?
  • And, why not have a bot that fits incrementally into any legacy-warehouse environment?
  • Then, spin out a robot manufacturing business called Locus Robotics!

DO YOU SELL OR USE A WMS PACKAGE? WANT A SIDE-ORDER OF ROBOTS?

If you search on YouTube for “warehouse robots + kiva” you will be amazed. However, one thing to note is that the entire warehouse must be reconfigured around the bots and their storage pods.

Next, go to the Locus Robotics site and watch their solution that blends humans with simple, traveling robots, as needed. Although an influx of massive retailers, who are trying to keep up with e-commerce sales out of legacy warehouses, may overwhelm Locus’ initial capacity, to me, the Locus solutions (or knock-offs) are a most-promising path for legacy warehouses. Put this model on your radar screen!

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