TESVOLT cofounder Daniel Hannemann on how his company is changing green manufacturing

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Daniel Hannemann, cofounder of TESVOLT

Insider: The building of Europe’s first gigafactory for battery storage systems in 2019 was clearly a decisive milestone since the foundation of the company just under seven years ago. What have been TESVOLT’s other biggest achievements in recent years?

Hannemann: Apart from that, there have been many other highlights. For instance, the many awards we have won, including the German Founder Award in 2018. However, we are above all also proud that we have created high-performance products. The useful life of our products is almost twice as long compared to other systems which are available on the market. This is a definite USP. The fact that we have created such a comprehensive and top-performing product portfolio in only a few years, is probably our biggest achievement.

Insider: What is TESVOLT’S growth strategy for the coming years?

Hannemann: We want to continue to press ahead with our dynamic growth course during the coming years and enhance our visibility further, both nationally and internationally. Our focus is to remain on energy storage in commercial and industrial environments, because this is where some of the highest environmental impacts are generated. Here we can provide obvious benefits. Our clear mission is to make available affordable green electricity anytime, anywhere. With this explicit message we want to substantially expedite the global energy turnaround.

Insider: What are some of the most recent developments and innovations?

Hannemann: One of our major innovations is the active battery management system Active Battery Optimizer (ABO). With this system we have created the only technology of this kind in the world, which optimizes all the cells within the battery. This technology is used in different applications, including for the optimization of self-consumption. Altogether we have now completed 1,500 projects with our energy storage solutions around the world, with market shares between 25 and 40% in different applications.

Insider: What are the biggest challenges right now for companies like TESVOLT and the energy industry in general?

Hannemann: We have little time. The sea levels are rising, the world climate is changing. The impact on ecosystems is enormous. The water is literally up to our neck. The decarbonization of the economic cycles must be pushed ahead much quicker to comply with the meaningful climate goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. This requires joint efforts by the business community, the policymakers, and the society. We must join our forces to save the planet. This sounds dramatic – but all scientifically recognized data confirm that the situation is actually dramatic.

Insider: How has COVID-19 impacted industry (and company) plans?

Hannemann: As challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic may be on a humanitarian level, we have hardly felt any economic impact of the pandemic. We very clearly benefit from the global megatrends of renewable energies and e-mobility and these developments have not been curbed by COVID-19. On the contrary, the environmental awareness of the society has grown once more in the middle of the pandemic. Our internal business processes have likewise almost not been influenced. Thanks to an effective and mature hygiene concept, our production has not stood still. In the areas in which this is possible, our employees also work from home. This works perfectly well thanks to our agile non-hierarchical corporate culture.

Insider: Has it provided an opportunity to increase your customer base?

Hannemann: As a globally networked company we have always strongly relied on digital tools. This has been further reinforced by the pandemic, which is a very clear advantage. On our customers’ level, this has triggered a significant change and they have likewise arrived more strongly in the digital world. Together we can act significantly more flexibly and efficiently in part. Instead of expensive business trips we now communicate mainly via digital channels with our customers or employees working for our subsidiaries in Australia and Korea. The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the world of work and we definitely consider this to be an added value.

Insider: Where do you see the company in 10 years’ time (and beyond)?

Hannemann: In my wishful thinking, by 2031 e-mobility and stationary energy storage systems will no longer be exceptions, but a living reality for many. We’re doing everything possible to be one of the main players proactively driving this positive development.

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New president of Universal Robots defines his leadership style and strategy for driving innovation in manufacturing

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Kim Povlsen, President of Universal Robots

Universal Robots launched the world’s first commercially viable collaborative robot (or cobot) in 2008 and has since become the fastest-growing segment of the global robotics market. With the recent departure of Jurgen Von Hollen, the company’s new president Kim Povlsen, “the new enzyme to the UR innovation formula,” and former elite athlete talks to Insider about leadership, human ingenuity, and how COVID-19 has changed manufacturing.

Insider: How will you continue to drive innovation in your new role at Universal Robots?

Povlsen: UR is driven by ingenuity, creativity, and a genuine desire to improve workplaces and global productivity. It is my ambition to build on this heritage and bring the flexible cobots to new audiences.

I will draw on my background from The Maersk Mc Kinney Moller Institute at Syddansk Universitet. This unique environment hatched several figures from the Danish robotics community and the creativity found here is a key ingredient for future innovation. In this sense, I am the new enzyme to the UR innovation formula. I will support the boldest ideas and link them to commercial opportunities to push UR innovation forward.

Insider: What exciting new plans can we expect to see from UR?

Povlsen: The industrial world is at a crossroads. Decisions must be made for more agile and adaptable production paradigms to accommodate new consumer behaviors. This is relevant for large corporates as well as SMBs, and UR’s flexible cobots are positioned perfectly to play a pivotal role in this paradigm shift. UR’s open ecosystem and UR+ platform will play a key role in this transformation and continue to create new use cases for cobots.

Insider: How excited are you for what the next few years in robotics looks like and how does UR fit into this picture?

Povlsen: I am beyond excited to have entered the UR world at a time and place, when the manufacturing industry is reaching out for new approaches to increase productivity in a more flexible and customer-centric way. We have only just scratched the surface of potential within robotics. We see new applications, open innovation, and global developments driving flexible automation forward at an ever-increasing pace.

Insider: What’s your leadership ethos and what’s it like working with you?

Povlsen: I constantly drive myself and my colleagues mad with the “why” question. Why are we doing what we are doing and to what extent do our actions support this ethos? It is imperative to step back from time to time to reflect and to challenge. This can guide the organisation towards greater goals.

As a former elite athlete, I also believe in multifaceted talent development. You need to improve on several parameters to create sustainable growth and creative drive.

Insider: How has the pandemic impacted the industry (positive and negative) and how will the industry cope?

Povlsen: No doubt the pandemic has challenged the manufacturing industry. Restrictions disrupted supply chains and lockdowns have posed immense financial and practical urgencies on owners as well as staff and management. At the same time, we have witnessed new creativity and the adoption of new technologies – such as allowing more local and flexible production. In this light, I believe the manufacturing industry will come out on top, reinvent itself and be prepared for new global opportunities.

Insider: What lessons have you and your company learned?

Povlsen: We have witnessed, in the most challenging of circumstances, that human ingenuity and technological advancements present new and unexpected potentials. We have seen manufacturers realigning their production to Covid safety equipment assisted by flexible cobots. These examples will inspire and drive innovation forward.

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How the next generation of automation will drive warehouses of the future

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Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics

COVID-19 has upended many businesses, but none more so than brick and mortar stores that rely on foot traffic. The combination of government-mandated shutdowns and consumer worry made these retailers’ sales tank in 2020, with almost 10,000 U.S. stores closing permanently. But consumers didn’t stop shopping – trapped at home, they took their buying online, which led to an e-commerce boom.

That boom has strained distribution and fulfillment centers, which every online order passes through before reaching a buyer’s doorstep. The pandemic exacerbated existing labor shortages in these warehouses; meanwhile, consumers expect online orders to arrive faster than ever, with two-day shipping the new standard. Warehouses are under tremendous pressure to do more with less.

These challenges won’t go away when the pandemic ends. In fact, IBM research shows that COVID accelerated the shift to e-commerce by 5 years. To keep up with this growth in e-commerce and to compete against the likes of Amazon, companies have begun viewing automation as more than a competitive advantage – it’s now a necessity. Warehouses must embrace new automation technologies like robotics and connected devices. Existing automation has already improved safety and efficiency, and warehouses that embrace the next generation – flexible solutions for monitoring and changing workflows on demand – will flourish. Here’s how automation has already addressed some of the biggest warehouse challenges and what’s next.

Warehouses are at a breaking point

The world has changed drastically in the last half century, but some warehouses haven’t. Many remain labor intensive, relying on workers to find a specific item in a sea of products and walk with it, sometimes miles, to the right processing station.

As the pandemic increased demands on warehouses, many companies struggled to hire staff to keep up while following COVID-19 regulations. Facing growing order volumes, these companies had to rely on staff to walk miles every day to pick products off shelves and keep operations running.

Among warehouses that have embraced automation, the pandemic proved all automation is not created equally. Many warehouses that have automation in place rely on fixed solutions such as conveyors and sortation systems, which can take 6-9 months to implement and are difficult to adjust to support new workflow needs. These fixed solutions were pushed to their limit in 2020, as facilities sought to meet new demands and make changes to their workflows on the fly.

Automation has made warehouses safer and faster

In response, some companies have begun automating specific workflows within their warehouses to reduce pressure on workers and increase productivity. COVID-19 accelerated this trend as facilities had to adopt social distancing rules and limit the number of workers in their facilities. In some of these facilities, employees now work side-by-side with mobile robots that quickly move goods across long distances, reducing physical strain on workers and speeding up production.

Automation also makes it easier for companies to operate warehouses in smaller facilities. As retail foot traffic dried up and online demand soared, some companies outfitted old retail stores that are closer to population centers as distribution centers. Using robots to power operations at all hours, they can fulfill and deliver orders faster.

How the next generation of automation will drive warehouses

Historically, a major sticking point in automation adoption is the time and cost of installation. Installing fixed automation systems requires facilities to cut operations in half for weeks. That obstacle is fading: new flexible automation solutions can be operational in a day. For example, warehouse workers can unbox a mobile robot, connect it to wifi and have it autonomously moving materials within hours.

In the case where there is a large investment in fixed automation that companies want to leverage, but still implement flexible automation like AMRs, cloud-based AMRs offer a way to bridge the gap between these two types of automation. For example, AMRs can autonomously move totes on and off a conveyor system by moving to the end of the conveyor, letting the cloud software know that it is next to the conveyor, and have the cloud software turn on the conveyor system and the rollers on top of the AMR to move a tote on or off the AMR. The same sort of integration can be used with other types of fixed automation.

Even after automation is installed, another challenge is that warehouse work effectively happens in a black box. Facility managers see what goes in and out, but not which aisles are congested or when a forklift moves too fast. Mobile robots with sensors can help by acting as “hall monitors,” showing managers the floor in real-time. Managers can spot inefficiencies and dangers, then create strategies to increase productivity and stop accidents before they happen.

As the shift from physical stores to e-commerce continues, warehouses will be more essential than ever to companies’ relationships with their customers and their bottom lines. With an ongoing labor shortage and heightened consumer demand, warehouses that embrace a new generation of flexible automation will be safer and more efficient.

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Manufacturing execs at Protolabs explore the unification of lean and digital production strategies

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Metrology Lab for digital scanning as part of the Protolabs quality control process

  • Last year accelerated the fact that to survive most effectively in a volatile marketplace supply chains and manufacturing firms need to transform and become more digital.
  • Robert Bodor, vice president and general manager in the Americas, and Joe Goodhart, director of operational excellence at Protolabs, an e-commerce manufacturing firm, share some tips on how companies can maximize lean manufacturing practices with digitalization.
  • Because of her work, Business Insider named Vicki Holt, CEO of Protolabs, to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming manufacturing in North America.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

How many of you, and your companies, are more digitally literate than you were 12 months ago due to the ongoing pandemic? I’d wager there are a lot of virtual heads nodding in agreement. As painstaking as that transformation can be at times, we typically emerge better prepared for future disruptions – large or small – that no doubt lie ahead.

In the spirit of fighting disruption with disruption, I want to look deeper at how companies can remove conventional barriers with digitalization, how to leverage lean principles to optimize the value of digitalization, how software-driven manufacturing has already done so, and how the digital thread can tie it all together. 

Disseminating the deluge of data into a strategic lean approach

Supply chain teams are accustomed to driving traditional lean practices and continuous improvement. But the last year has accelerated the fact that to survive most effectively in a volatile marketplace they need to transform, and become more digital.

While lean manufacturing concepts have been around for decades, the digitalization of lean is relatively new. What I’m hearing from leaders at other companies is not only, “we want to digitalize” but in some cases, “we must digitalize.”

So how exactly do you do that? Well, you start by gathering data, and typically you can find a lot of it! You can hire an outside company that can either gather it for you or you can learn and implement the data gathering tools yourself, which can be problematic when time and agility are paramount. 

But, gathering the data is not the true challenge. The bigger challenge is disseminating the endless waves of data and getting that data to the right decision makers so it can be converted into information for identifying and solving your most impactful problems. How can you apply the data to problem-solving processes that are intended to improve business results? That’s what becomes overwhelming. We see many companies in this mode right now-they’ve installed a system and are getting tons of data, but they don’t necessarily know what it’s telling them or what to do with it. That makes it hard to demonstrate ROI on these data tools as they’re working their way through this new digital world.

Similarly, your lean initiatives may not be tackling the right problems-the barriers that are most instrumental in preventing you from reaching your targets-and as a result the promise of lean is not coming to fruition. You may have finished a project where you eliminated some random waste, but you didn’t systemically move the needle to deliver on your business performance objectives. Without data-driven insights, you are simply creating random acts of Kaizen. But no impact. Lean needs data, and data needs lean.

You need to generate data in a hypothesis-driven way, and to do that, you need to extract the right data from an end-to-end system-gathered throughout the digital thread-to identify not only where the most effective places are to drive change but what needs to change and how it will impact the entire value stream.

Operational teams understand lean and continuous improvement initiatives, and technology services teams understand digital initiatives. You need something that bridges these teams, and for Protolabs, it’s our digital thread that ties what we’re doing in software to the business need-not only at the manufacturing plant level, but throughout the entire value stream, including the customer. Ultimately, the thread drives sustainable value-added results.

How we applied digital lean to manufacturing

We know the growing pains. We’ve been there. Digitalization can be a daunting challenge to tackle, but in today’s business climate, it’s a necessary one. As a technology-forward manufacturer, the digital thread is omnipresent throughout our manufacturing ecosystem. It starts when a product designer or engineer uploads a 3D CAD model and flows those part requirements to our automated design analysis, then on to toolpathing the part design for production, where we create a digital twin of the completed part. The next step communicates to a network of manufacturing machines, and continues through to quality control and shipping. There are many steps along the way, and the digitalized systems along that path needed to be integrated with one another. It’s a complex puzzle to solve, but the byproduct is a digital thread that allows you to tether data-driven performance insights to each step in the value stream in order to systemically accelerate targeted improvements and optimize the delivery of value.  

It is the backbone that allows us to measure all manner of things about customer behavior from the early stages onward, and we can also acquire knowledge along each digital step: How satisfied is the customer with the design analysis? How likely is this design to cause rework? How long is an order taking? How much material does that take? How much labor is needed? And as we consolidate this information, we can couple it to improving the customer experience and meeting business objectives.

With these connections along the digital thread in place you know what data to collect. And, you can avoid collecting, storing, and managing data that has no real value. In lean terms, this is waste.   

The result of an end-to-end digital thread coupled with lean? An infinite loop of continuous improvement that focuses on the customer. Digital lean never ends, it’s a perpetual process that allows for the evolution and growth of your company, your systems and processes, and the value you can provide your customers.

The Venn diagram that emerges here shows the shared benefits-the value proposition, if you will-of a digitally lean system: It arms those closest to the work with the right data at the right time. It drives efficiencies and accelerates the rate of improvement. It makes a traditional lean approach leaner! It truly enables a more responsive delivery of value to your customers, which is a driving principle of lean and what most companies want to achieve.

How does this apply to real-world manufacturing? We reduced standard injection molding lead time from 10 days to 7 days by increasing quick-turn capabilities for customers. We layered in additional secondary processes like color-matching for molded parts, post-production processes on 3D-printed parts, or enhanced quality measures across manufacturing – all derived from customer needs identified in the digital thread. By advancing these capabilities in-house, we reduced the frustrations of customers who typically had to work with various suppliers. Instead, we’ve created a single-source manufacturing resource, which is valued by supply chain managers, procurement teams, and engineers. These are real results from actual digital lean strategies. And, they reinforce the principle of delivering value to the customer.

Integrating digital streams into one thread

I’ve seen firsthand the challenges that come with digital integration-we’ve experienced it in the past and continue to navigate rapid digital adoption in parallel with many others inside and outside of manufacturing.

Keep in mind that as you work to both digitalize your system and continuously improve processes, it’s often much easier to insert a proven system into your own value stream, one that has already undergone this digital transformation. If digitalizing your supply chain is a critical to servicing your customers, then integrating a digitalized, plug-and-play manufacturing system may exponentially increase your company’s performance, and do so fast. The benefits can include improved digital cohesion between systems, increased speed to market, and ultimately a fortified supply chain with greater agility against demand volatility.

In the end, it’s about forming partnerships-with other companies, tech providers, suppliers. So, I want to close with a question: What systems do you want to put in place so you can truly become digitally lean and enable quicker, more responsive delivery of value to your customers?

About Rob Bodor

Robert Bodor is Vice President and General Manager, Americas, at Protolabs, a leading digital manufacturer of custom parts. Bodor has also held roles as Chief Technology Officer and Director of Business Development during his time at Protolabs. He’s also held leadership roles at Honeywell and McKinsey & Company, and has been on the executive team of two early-stage software companies in the Twin Cities. Bodor holds B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Engineering and Computer Science.

About Joe Goodhart

Joe Goodhart is Director of Operational Excellence at Protolabs. With nearly 30 years of operations and lean experience, he has also held leadership roles within the industries of medical device, measurement instrumentation, and health care IT. He holds a B.S., and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

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Diversity of application has been central to nanotechnology -is accessibility the next significant step-change?

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Nano copper dispersion

  • In July 2020, Promethean Particles won an Institute of Physics Business Innovation Award for solving a key fluid-mechanics problem enabling the use of supercritical fluids for the large-scale production of nanoparticles.

  • This breakthrough supports the development of a unique manufacturing process that enhances the scalability, safety, and sustainability of nanomaterials, whilst reducing supply-chain waste and cost.
  • Dr. Selina Ambrose, technical manager at the company, leads a team of research scientists and manages Promethean’s research-and-development projects.
  • Because of her work, Business Insider named Dr. Ambrose to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming manufacturing in Europe.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

The commercial design, engineering, and manufacturing industries thrive on innovation. When process efficiency and sustainability remain core to business success and the bottom line is at stake, no business can afford to fall behind its competitors. 

One of the most rapidly accelerating solutions of contemporary industry has been nanoparticle technology. While the technology has been used in scientific laboratories for a long time, nanotechnology is surging in commercial application as the capabilities become better understood and more effectively communicated.

While at first glance, nanotechnology may seem an imposing term for those that might be unfamiliar with it, it describes a deceptively simple concept. By manufacturing and manipulating materials and devices on an atomic scale, with a dimension of 100 billionths of a meter or less, the physical and chemical properties of materials can be fundamentally changed. In turn, changing how materials behave in certain conditions unlocks new possibilities for application and innovation. 

The technology has more than proved its potential in applications such as inks and pigments, printed electronics and functional coatings to name just a few. In terms of industries, they are finding diverse use in textiles, healthcare, energy, food, retail, and construction. The opportunities are clear; however, innovation cannot exist in isolation. If the technology can’t offer the economy of scale that brands and manufacturers need, there will remain a question mark over nanotechnology as a tool for commercial success in the longer term.

The sheer depth of application has been a core driving force for the growth of nanoparticle technology – could accessibility be the next significant development? 

At Promethean Particles, we want to change the narrative around nanotechnology. At present, brands and manufacturers see nanotechnology as a commercial advantage, but don’t explore the application further because the scalability of production isn’t there. Nanoparticles are created in too small a quantity to add long-term value and present challenges in terms of reliability and consistency in large-scale supply.

Promethean Plant
Promethean Plant

Most nanomaterial manufacturers use batch processes that are either not scalable or can only be scaled with significant monetary investment, leading to extremely high pricing of the resulting materials. This then makes it less economical to implement the technology.

The challenge of cost varies greatly between markets or sectors, mainly because some are more niche and able to tolerate higher prices, if the technical benefits are present. In others, where chemical additives are more commodity-style goods, for example paints and pigments, the cost is the bottom line which dictates if nanotechnology can be adopted.

At Promethean, we are setting a new benchmark in nanoparticle manufacturing – by delivering competitive advantage for our customers. We can address the challenge of scalability through our patented continuous-flow production process, which enables nanomaterial manufacturing to be scaled up without the usual surge in operating costs.

Importantly, the process does not affect material performance or quality. By achieving economies of scale in production, we can support the commercial viability of product innovation. Ultimately, the unique manufacturing configuration at Promethean challenges the idea that nanotechnology is not accessible. This new way of producing materials has boosted supply availability and, in doing so, unlocked nanoparticle potential for an even more varied group of sectors.

Bridging the gap between nanomaterials considered as a novel, small scale idea for manufacturers, to an industrially viable innovation is core to the Promethean vision. As part of this, we recognise that manufacturers will want to incorporate the technology into existing processes to mitigate risk and cost. We provide feasibility studies and take a flexible approach to understand specific customer needs and requirements, so that we can offer a bespoke and tailored solution for any one application. When it comes to nanoparticles, it very much isn’t the case that one size fits all!

Recently, Promethean collaborated with a speciality ingredients manufacturer to improve process efficiency and health and safety in operations. The company used a batch process to manufacture a pigment but the chemical reaction to generate the pigment released heat. This led to complexities in process control and health and safety challenges, resulting in material losses and downtime, increased costs and unreliable supply.

Working closely with the customer to understand the required pigment specification and establish an alternative manufacturing process, the Promethean team was able to utilize the continuous flow manufacturing process to enable a more controlled, safe chemical reaction. The result was a pigment that displayed the same colour and stability characteristics as the benchmark material. 

Meanwhile, during the past year, Promethean has been able to demonstrate its ability to adapt its processes to suit different applications. We have traditionally developed nano-copper particles for the printed electronics market, due to the conductive properties of copper. Yet, copper is also well known for its antimicrobial properties. Working with UK and Mexican textile companies and research institutes, we have developed nano-copper for use in fabrics and Personal Protective Equipment for the healthcare sector, to deliver antimicrobial and anti-viral properties. There is also scope to further develop these nano-copper materials for use in coating applications, such as for healthcare surfaces and touchscreen devices.

At Promethean, we are creating a more accessible platform for nanotechnology for businesses of all sizes, operating in a wide variety of industries from the niche to the mainstream. It is evident that manufacturing supply chains are under increased pressure to perform in increasingly volatile and complex markets. Innovation and efficiency have never been more critical. These needs can, not only be supported with, but driven by, nanotechnology enabling businesses to improve production performance and succeed commercially.

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RightHand Robotics director of product management explains why automation is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity

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Artug Acar, director of product management at Right Hand Robotics

Throughout the pandemic, logistics has become the center of attention well beyond the e-commerce world. Consumers running out of hygiene supplies; shortages of food on the shelves at their local grocery stores; difficulties reserving a reasonable time slot for online food delivery – these have brought heightened visibility into logistics for consumers, industry professionals, and venture capitalists, alike. This global realization that effective logistics is now more critical than ever in society has made it apparent that meeting customer demand and managing growth requires improved efficiency in the supply chain. Automation is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity.

As companies look for ways to keep up with increased demand, a smart approach is to add automation into an existing system. At this time of digital transformation, companies look to cutting edge technologies that they can embed into their existing operations to provide short-term improvements. Unfortunately, incremental upgrades in the system for processes that were not designed for automation often cause unforeseen problems, subsequently leading to blaming the new technologies for these significant issues. Traditional hardware components and methods, however, rarely mesh well with new technologies. The key to solving this problem is stepping back and looking at the overall system as a whole to really gain the most out of these new high-tech products.

However, this concept is not new – visualizing automation in warehouses has been going on for around 30 years. What is new is the rate of innovation and the level of automation now available. Today, automation can impact the heart of your core business with new technologies that can automate picking, pack-outs, and even front-door delivery. It requires team effort to ensure that you can meet customer demands without disrupting your supply chain.

A brilliant example of team effort and the steps it takes to meet customer demands is in the 2019 movie, “Ford v Ferrari.” This film depicts the American automaker Ford putting together a winning formula consisting of a powerful driving machine, a skilled driver and a team that was fully in tune with the need for all parts to work seamlessly together in order to get the most out of the Ford GT40. To be victorious required synchronizing different variables — from the race car designer to the ownership team and talented pit crew; the right wheels and engine; to the driver who knew how to handle the track properly. All these came together to make the Ford GT40 program a success – a true team effort.

So, how does this apply in a warehouse? Ask yourself, “Who is my team now?” Your team is beyond your four walls. When we think about going through a digital transformation, these are the three most critical parties involved and scenarios that typically take place:

1) You and the warehouse/logistics division that are investing in the new technology and putting resources into it. You know that automation is about being lean, and you are prepared to implement process improvements such as Kaizen to get the most out of automation.

2) The companies that are developing breakthrough products. You must work hand-in-hand with your innovation partner to ensure that your needs are being included in their roadmap.

3) The integrators (sometimes the technology companies themselves) who are in charge of meeting your needs with the available solutions. When a core step is affected, the limitations of the technology may not allow your expectations to be met, and integrators are crucial for bridging the gap between what the technology can provide and what you need achieved.

At this point, integrators play a critical role. Working with older systems while adapting newer technologies is not an easy task. The result is that projects take longer, and both the customer and the technology provider go through multiple iterations. Each party shares responsibility in the success of these projects.

Take for example one of the most successful case studies of digital transformation ever seen from our previous generation: Kiva Systems. Kiva was created by Mick Mountz (now board member at RightHand Robotics) after he experienced the burden of fulfilling customer expectations by relying on legacy technology for a growing industry while working at Webvan. What Mick and the Kiva team did was not just integrate autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) into an existing solution, he also analyzed the problem and developed a solution that completely changed how logistics and warehousing industries were thinking about automation. AMRs have been around since the 1950s, but until Kiva introduced their solution to the market, they had never been used the way they are today.

Since then, the pace of digital transformation has accelerated dramatically. Computing power and the evolution of vision systems, along with advancements in machine learning, opened up all-new possibilities that were not conceivable a decade or so ago. Right now, the challenge is not about developing components to solve these problems. Today’s innovators must build a solution for a complete overhaul of the legacy systems, so that the industry can get the most out of these breakthrough technologies.

Major players in the industry are looking at this problem by taking a step back – just like Kiva did 20 years ago. Large ASRS (automated storage and retrieval systems) companies such as AutoStore and ASRS integrators such as Element Logic are considering the capabilities that are needed to utilize these newer technologies at full capacity. Additionally, automated piece-picking, which is what RightHand does, is a growing market that ASRS companies are looking into for additional support within their systems. As the warehouse landscape improves for these breakthrough technologies, integration will be faster and continuous.

Successful automation is defined by how well exceptions are handled, and that requires a complete solution rather than small fixes. For example, an exception could be dropping an item during transfer. With a well-thought-out product in place, the automated piece-picking system would be able to detect this issue and either resolve it automatically or notify the site operations team to assist. These types of systems would consist of a flexible, nimble gripper connected to a robot arm, enhanced with vision capabilities and enterprise-level artificial intelligence software, integrated and designed to detect and address such issues effectively. New innovations and upgrades in these systems are now more widely available thanks to rapid technology developments. With the right system in place, exceptions can be minimized and easily resolved, leading to higher overall equipment efficiency – a key metric for automation systems. 

At the macro level, companies that are undertaking digital transformation would benefit more by doing a complete overhaul with buy-in from every team member. For a successful transformation, vendors and integrators must align around continuous improvement processes, including KPIs and timelines. At the micro level, your choice of partner is as important as the solution they are providing.

Now more than ever, implementing automation in warehouses is critical for a business to sustain itself, keep up with increasing demand, and manage growth. For warehouse professionals who are contemplating how to automate their systems, remember to apply lean processes and make it a team sport – that is the recipe for success. 

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