MODEX 2022 kicked-off on Monday and I spent the full-day Tuesday on the floor. Needless to say, it was liberating to be back at a trade show in person – my first since March 2020. From the looks of the high attendance and the extensive booth displays, there was clearly some pent-up demand for the technology on display and the insights being conveyed. One day is not nearly enough to take even half of what I would have liked. Most notably, I wish I had spent time at the OPEX booth to get a better feel for the company’s recently launched Infinity AS/RS. But I was fortunate enough to pack in a full day of interesting meetings, demonstrations, and learnings. Here are the highlights:
Locus Robotics demonstrated its recently extended range of robots. The traditional Locus Bot is now branded as Locus Origin 1. The recently released and update model is branded as Locus Origin 2. It can carry a higher load (80lbs) and is designed with a lower profile, providing additional space for on-board shelving and item storage. The Locus Vector (600 lb load capacity) and Locus Max (3,000 lb load capacity) were also on display. Both of these models address higher payload requirements and different warehouse processes and are complementary to the Locus Origin capabilities. Perhaps most interesting to me were the mobility and agility enabled by the mecanum wheels on the Locus Vector and Locus Max. Viewing these bots in action illustrated how they can maneuver in and out of tight spaces that is typical of warehouse navigation and slotting. In fact, the bots almost appeared as if they were slipping on the floor as they maneuvered in a range of directions. I hope next year to hear about how customers are utilizing the various bots in the fleet to realize and integrated warehouse robotics fleet.
KNAPP, perhaps most well-known for its leading position as a global shuttle systems provider, provided me with an update on its “vision-in-action” to expand its presence from the current offering to that of an end-to-end, top-to-bottom supply chain technology provider. We took a deep dive into KiSoft Analytics, the company’s multi-site BI tool. This solution is currently used by a number of companies, such as Takeoff Technologies, as a window into operations across numerous facilities. The solution comes with a pre-developed logistics data model and over 100 dashboards pre-filled. It is an open platform that supports data from KNAPP as well as third-party technologies. Data is either pushed or pulled into the system within the range of seconds to five-minute intervals, allowing for near real time visibility into operations. KNAPP has also normalized KPIs across operation types and allows companies to benchmark their operations across sites and anonymously with the operations of other operating companies. The product is clearly valuable in its current state, but it also makes me wonder it could be a foundation for… what is coming next?
Körber Supply Chain Software recently received an injection of capital from the private equity firm, KKR. I will be diligently watching how KKR’s presence drives the evolution of this company. However, my discussions with Körber at MODEX centered on the company’s CLASS warehouse modeling and simulation solution. I found it interesting how Körber is using the tool to assist clients in determining opportunities for performance improvements at their warehouses. For example, data from an existing facility can be uploaded into the system and the team can then determine KPIs of interest and run what if scenarios to determine likely outcomes of various changes. This data from existing facilities can be applied to greenfield sites to optimize the set up of a new facility, or the data can be used to determine the outcomes from the addition of new technologies, such as warehouse robotics or voice-enabled picking or other tasks. I see the technology as not only a valuable addition to Körber’s solution portfolio, but also an extremely valuable tool for Körber to apply in the front-end of a consulting engagement to demonstrate performance results and guide a customer to an optimal solution for their needs.
Vanderlande discussed several of its products, but the majority of my time was spent learning more about the FastPick goods-to-person solution. FastPick combines the Adapto shuttle and a manual pick station. The two-dimensional movement of the Adapto shuttle enables goods sequencing without reliance on conveyor loops as would typically be required in similar solutions. The solution is currently installed at client sites, including a Walmart Canada site. Also that day Vanderlande announced its partnership with RightHand Robotics for integration of its robotic picking into the FastPick solution. Vanderlande tested multiple robotic picking solutions and determined from these “bake-offs” that RightHand Robotics would offer the greatest performance for the FastPick solution.
Berkshire Grey demonstrated three solutions in its exhibition area – Autonomous picking to an autobagger, the Robotic Shuttle Put Wall, and Mobile Robotic Sortation. Most of my time was spent observing and learning about Mobile Robotic Sortation. This solution allows customers to easily turn a standard warehouse floor into a flexible unit sorter. The individual bots can carry loads of up to 65 pounds including standard loads and non-conveyables such as cartons of glass food containers. A prominent use case is the sortation of goods for intelligent, aisle friendly delivery to a downstream location. An existing customer is utilizing Mobile Robotic Sortation with hundreds of bots on multiple floors with its facility.
Blue Yonder highlighted its solution for end-to-end unification of logistics and order management. However, most of my time was spend learning about Blue Yonder’s Robotics Hub – a SaaS-native application for streamlined onboarding and integration of robotics from multiple vendors. We discussed DHL’s use of Robotics Hub for a broad-based set-up of robotics, including Geek+ and Locus Robotics, at numerous sites. DHL is currently utilzing Robotics Hub, as well as Blue Yonder’s Warehouse Tasking solution, at multiple sites.
Open Sky Group, a Blue Yonder global partner, was sensibly located adjacent to the Blue Yonder exhibition site. I had an interesting conversation with them about a hands-on consulting engagement at which they are implementing Blue Yonder WMS at a large e-commerce only facility for a home décor retailer. The intersystem collaboration is highly complex, with adjacent systems including slotting, cubing, and a WES supporting 50 down lanes with 4 put-walls each, and each pull-wall including 25 slots (amounting to a total of 5,000 slots if I did the math correctly). Most notable, according to the Open Sky consultant, was the complex interdependencies resulting from the put-walls.
Swisslog offers a full-range of warehouse automation and integration solutions. In addition, it is the largest (or one of the largest) AutoStore partner. As the company’s direct-to-consumer and other item picking installations have increased – a need for additional capabilities supporing individual item processing has also developed. In response, Swisslog recently formed a partnership with Berkshire Grey to deliver robotic solutions to grocery, e-commerce, and retail customers. Berkshire Grey’s capabilities complement Swisslog’s existing solution set by enabling completely integrated sortation down to the item level.
Manhattan Associates was presenting the progression of its solutions into what is now branded Manhattan Active Supply Chain – a unified supply chain offering that incorporates Manhattan Active Warehouse Management, Manhattan Active Labor Management and Manhattan Active Transportation Management in a single cloud native application. However, my discussion with Manhattan Associates at MODEX centered on the WES capabilities of its WMS solution. In particular, we discussed the ways in which the WES integrates with the control system – receiving inputs, synthesizing this data with capacities, workloads, and other traditional WMS information, and ultimately orchestrating work release based on scaled prioritization between capacity utilization and order fulfillment prioritization (cut-off times). The connectivity to automation, in conjunction with order streaming capabilities and an intelligent work release engine are central tenets to the value delivered by Manhattan’s WES capabilities.