If you have watched George Lucas’s Star Wars movies, considered one of the best science fiction and fantasy film series of all times, you’ll vividly recall the fictional robot character called R2-D2 (pronounced Artoo-Detoo) who shows great bravery in rescuing his masters from many perils. Singapore-based GreyOrange’s robots, Butler and Sorter, will remind you of that small astromech droid as they make the warehouses of e-commerce biggies such as Flipkart, Jabong and Pepperfry significantly more agile, dynamic and smart. Besides e-commerce, companies in logistics, retail and FMCG sectors too are automating their supply chains with these artificial intelligence-powered robotic solutions—these are modular, scalable and adaptable for any kind of warehouse environment, helping clients solve supply chain business problems in an efficient manner.
“Flipkart, one of our first customers, came with several distribution challenges such as high volumes, single/multiple-items per order, shipping to numerous locations across India, demand surge during seasonal peaks and services like same-day and next-day delivery,” remembers Akash Gupta, chief technology officer and co-founder, GreyOrange.
To address these, GreyOrange Linear Sorter systems, with the ability to deal with a wide variety of packaging such as cartons, polybags, etc.; and capable of segregating to large number of locations based on 1D and 2D barcode scanning on moving consignments, were deployed across Flipkart’s fulfilment centres. The Linear Sorters constituted an in-built dimensioning and weighing system to measure real volume, and weight of each packet for real-time tracking and accurate billing with various third party logistics companies that Flipkart collaborated with. “The value proposition brought by GreyOrange automation solution was accuracy, repeatability and consistency. GreyOrange worked with us as a team and suggested a solution that was scalable,” says V Ramesh, vice president- supply chain operations, Flipkart.
GreyOrange’s solution enabled Flipkart to optimise its supply chain, by achieving the required throughput, while reducing errors, streamlining the billing process and effectively utilising space in its fulfilment centres and warehouses. The e-commerce major has achieved throughput of 48,000 items per hour, reduced sorting processing time by half, improved dimensioning and weighing accuracy by 16-18%, resulting in increased revenue recognition by 10%, among other benefits.
Slow to adopt
For decades, warehouses have remained untouched by technology, making even the most basic operations like sorting, picking, storing and documenting, inefficient and often error-prone and unreliable. The irony is that the warehouse is the most critical aspect of supply chains across industries. Storage and inventory management constitute 60% of the entire supply chain while warehouse operations make up about 25% of the entire supply chain cost. Industries such as automobile, pharmaceutical, retail, e-commerce, healthcare, etc., depend either on in-house or third party warehouses to ensure timely availability of raw material to the production units or of ready products to the market.
In e-commerce, for example, with customers’ preferences fast shifting from next-day delivery to same-day delivery to now four-hour delivery, the speed at which these warehouses operate is crucial to remain competitive in the market. Advanced technologies such as AI and robotics process automation can solve these complex problems, enabling increase in throughput by as much as 200%, making these technologies indispensable for running superlative and efficient warehouses.
Powering with robotics
The revolution isn’t confined to only e-commerce. International express, mail delivery and logistics services major Aramex faced the pressure of high volumes at its Delhi hub that had to cater to the entire Delhi-NCR region. Here again, GreyOrange deployed its Linear Sorter system with the capacity of sorting up to 3,000 packets per hour. GreyOrange’s Pick-Put-to-Light (PPTL) system, a proprietary technology, allowed Aramex to efficiently further sub-sort the packets even till the last-mile (pin-codes level), with minimal errors. Says Percy Avari, regional manager—South Asia at Aramex, “Manual sortation was error-prone with level of errors ranging from 3-5% everyday. With GreyOrange sorting solution, we have 100% accuracy rate. So, as long as the client has given us the right pincode, the packages reach the end-destination without any further sorting from the origin to destination.”
GreyOrange’s solution also increased sortation throughput to 25,000 packets in a day. GreyOrange assisted Aramex in integrating the linear sortation system in a super-squeezed warehouse of 1,500 sq. feet, with almost 90% space utilisation, consolidating volumes of five distribution hubs into one.
Hong Kong-based Kerry Logistics, one of the first third party logistics (3PL) in Asia to adopt robotic automation technology, enhanced its fulfilment efficiency and accuracy of orders from retailers and e-commerce players with the AI-powered GreyOrange Butler. Kerry Logistics’ proprietary warehouse management system transfers information about orders in real time to the Butler’s data management system, which then brings the right products for the order to the warehouse operator at the pick-put-station. To reduce fulfilment errors, the system indicates the right items to be picked for shipments and the right shipping box to put it into, using GreyOrange’s proprietary Pick-Put-To-Light (PPTL) system. With the Butler system, Kerry Logistics has been able to efficiently ship a wide variety of consumer products despite the high volumes of small and irregular orders. Picking up accuracy at Kerry Logistics has improved to over 99% and the average pick up rate has gone up by six times compared with earlier manual operations.
Without doubt, robotics automation is taking supply chain management to the next level.