Back to list

Robots in the supply chain

  • General News
  • 27th June 2016

Originally posted by Anirban Chowdhury, ET Bureau. Taken from http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/. With technological advancements coming at an ever increasing rate, it might be time to step into a position which a machine cannot do.

MUMBAI: At courier firm DTDC’s Delhi hub, a 25-arm monster sorts packages in lightning speed: 3,600 items an hour, or one in every second.

The robotic sorter is one of the highlights of eight automated hubs DTDC is setting up in the country for Rs 50 crore over the next year and half, executive director Abhishek Chakraborty said in a recent interview.

The DTDC initiative is an example of machines increasingly replacing humans at logistics operations as they try to keep up with demand from the fastgrowing ecommerce segment.

Ecommerce companies need third-party support to deliver almost all products they sell, and in a segment where cutthroat competition is the norm, packaging quality and the time taken to deliver the product play a major role in customer stickiness. Companies such as Flipkart, Gojavas and DTDC are investing hundreds .. of crores to modernise logistics.
robort-agencies

“By utilising automation and robotics, we expect to reduce time by replacing manually intensive tasks, and respond quickly to the new and emerging demands, in most cases even anticipating them,” said Sanjeev Mehta, vice president and head of product and design for eKart, Flipkart’s dedicated logistics partner.

The company is using automation in select centres to pick and move packages and will extend this to other facilities, Mehta said. It will also use new technologies like sorters and profilers to better handle packages as per specific orders. Mehta didn’t give details on investment or the number of systems Flipkart is setting up. Amazon India is meanwhile planning to set up its first automated sortation system at one of its 11 facilities, a person with knowledge of the matter said. Amazon denied comment.

WHY AUTOMATION?

The online retail industry, which was valued at $1 billion two years ago, is expected to reach $32 billion (more than Rs 2 lakh crore) in 2020, according to retail advisory firm Technopak. While online travel still constitutes more than 70% of the ecommerce segment in the country, online retail’s share has doubled from 10% in 2009.

Urgent need for automation also comes from the concept of seasonal rise in sales is fast getting obsolete, industry experts said. “For a month you have an iPhone model as a slow-selling product. Suddenly a retailer announces a heavy discount the next month and there is a major influx of orders. How do you suddenly get additional manpower to handle a spurt?” said Apurva Vadera, who heads operations at GreyOrange India, one of the few home-grown robotics firms.

The company has installed 12 automated sortation systems for Flipkart, Gojavas, Aramex, Delivery and DTDC since 2009. It is in talks with one of these companies to sell “Butler”, a smart automated guided vehicle robot to help in picking products fast and putting them into packages, said Vadera, without elaborating.

One of its first customers was Flipkart, for which it designed an automated sortation system at a fifth of the price that was being charged by an overseas company, he said.

HOW IT WORKS

Broadly, ecommerce logistics operations can be divided into two stages: i) picking of

the right products, combing it with other products (mobile with earphones etc) and packing them; ii) sorting and allocating packages as per the delivery location.

Most Indian companies have invested in automation of the second stage: sorting. At DTDC’s Delhi hub, a parcel takes half an hour before it’s ready for delivery, down from two hours when it used to be done manually.

GreyOrange is now in talks to sell a sorter which can do 7,200 packages an hour, Vadera said.

BEYOND ROBOTICS

Overcart is an online marketplace which buys unboxed, refurbished, pre-owned, and excess

stock products from retailers, manufacturers and sells at discounted prices, often after getting them repaired at authorised service centres. The process would entail more specified picking than usual retailers as each unit may come with a different price tag depending on when or under what conditions it was returned.

The company has developed algorithm systems in house for the specified picking, said founder Saptarshi Nath. It has also developed software by which the original retailer or manufacturer can constantly track the product before it is finally sold to a customer. Anil Khanna, MD at Blue Dart, said it has implemented systems like weight dimension labelling.

Do you have a question? We'll call you    Make an enquiry