Boston Dynamics enters logistics market with Kinema Systems acquisition

Boston Dynamics has announced the acquisition of Kinema Systems, a company that enables industrial robotic arms with deep learning technology to locate and move boxes on complex pallets.
Using a combination of vision sensors and deep learning software, Kinema Systems’ Pick technology works with commercial robotic arms to move boxes off pallets to conveyors or build stacks of boxes on pallets.
Pick enables logistics, retail, and manufacturing companies to achieve high rates of box moving with minimal set up or training for both multi-SKU and single-SKU pallets.
“Bringing the Kinema team into Boston Dynamics expands our perception and learning capabilities while the Pick product accelerates our entry into the logistics market. Beyond being a powerful tool for industrial robotic arms, Kinema technology will help our mobile manipulation robots tackle a wide variety of complex real-world tasks,” Boston Dynamics Founder and CEO Marc Raibert said.

 

Data61 launches Robotics Innovation Centre in Queensland

CSIRO’s Data61 has announced the opening of its new Robotics Innovation Centre in Queensland, a purpose-built research facility for robotics and autonomous systems, an industry set to be worth $23 billion by 2025.

CSIRO’s Data61 is one of the global leaders in the field, with capabilities ranging from legged robots and 3D mapping through to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).
Fred Pauling, Robotics and Autonomous Systems group leader at CSIRO’s Data61 said the 600-square-metre facility would enhance the group’s world-class research capabilities.
“The new centre expands our research infrastructure to develop highly autonomous robotics systems that can interact safely and seamlessly with humans and other dynamic agents, in challenging indoor and outdoor environments,” Fred said.
“Our robots are already being used to safely inspect and create 3D maps of underground mines, monitor biodiversity in the Amazon Rainforest and navigate difficult terrain in emergency situations.”
One project being spearheaded by the centre is the testing of technology to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments as part of a three-year Subterranean Challenge funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The centre houses the biggest motion capture system in the Southern Hemisphere, used to validate data collected by robotics systems. It also features a 13x5m pool for testing aquatic robots, a significant number of field-deployable UAVs and UGVs, legged robots, high-accuracy robot manipulators as well as sensors and telemetry systems.
Adrian Turner, CEO at CSIRO’s Data61, said the centre is a national asset that combines internationally recognised robotics and machine learning research with deep domain expertise from CSIRO providing unique collaboration opportunities for industry, government and academia.
“Robotics and autonomous systems technologies, underpinned by machine learning and artificial intelligence, will unlock new value in all manner of sectors including manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare and mining,” Mr Turner said.
“By creating a cohesive approach to robotics R&D through closer collaboration, supported by world-class facilities like the Robotics Innovation Centre, we can ensure Australia is well placed to benefit from Industry 4.0 and help to protect and accelerate our nation’s ongoing economic success.”
Data61 led the formation of the Sixth Wave Alliance last year, a network which seeks to integrate key robotics research organisations and industry partners in Australia to enable a higher level of R&D collaboration. Dr Sue Keay was recently appointed to lead Data61’s cyber-physical systems research program, drawing on her experience in developing Australia’s first Robotics Roadmap while at QUT’s Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.
Data61’s robotics infrastructure is open for industry use and collaborative projects. This includes dedicated mechanical and electronics engineering laboratories, several high-end rapid prototyping machines, large sheds for indoors systems testing, an open-air UAV flying area and outdoor testing areas including a forest and creek.

Global warehouse robotics market to be worth $8bn by 2025

The global warehouse robotics market is expected to reach AUD 8 billion by 2025.
The increasing importance of automation in the manufacturing sector is driving the market for robotics across the globe, according to a recent report released by Hexa Research.
The products find utility as material handling equipment in various industries including automotive, food & beverage, pharmaceuticals, electronics, oil & gas, construction, and e-commerce.
Robots fit in well as companies look for ways to bring in operational efficiency by improving inventory control and increasing labor efficiency to reduce lag time in order processing. The focus on optimising warehouse operations has gained more importance with an ever-growing e-commerce industry, where effective backend operations play a critical role.
The automation in the manufacturing sector with the help of warehouse robotics systems has made picking, moving, labelling, and packaging processes easier and efficient. These systems also enable firms to achieve the global quality standard at a fast pace through the process quality monitoring robots.
The rapid growth of the electronics industry in emerging economies including, China, India, and Taiwan is fuelling the market for warehouse robotics. For instance, the new product launches by the leading electronic companies including, LG and Samsung on white goods including, smart LED TVs is expected to have a positive impact on the market.
The automation of production processes through the inclusion of warehouse robotic systems has resulted in improved efficiency, consistent quality, minimal maintenance costs, and safe operation. Sometimes the sorting and assembling of the miniaturised electronics are not feasible for the human. The mobile robots are proved to be highly important and useful for performing such a delicate task and it gives a better quality of the product.
Over the past few years, the automotive manufacturing firms have been increasing spending towards the utilisation of warehouse robotics systems for the movement of finished four vehicle products. As of 2017, the U.S. and China were the major manufacturers of automotive across the world. The number of robots installed in these two countries has increased considerably over the years. The major part of the U.S. and China’s robot order goes to the automotive industry.
In the automotive sector, robots are mainly used in for laser cutting, palletising, CNC machines, welding, plasma cutting, press machines, and BIW welding lines. Robots are also gaining popularity in the painting operation. There are few automotive companies are aiming for complete automation of the manufacturing process with the help of the warehouse robots in their production plant. Thus, the automotive industry is expected to remain a lucrative application segment for warehouse robotics market.
Some of the key manufacturers in the robotics market include ABB, KUKA AG, FANUC Corporation, Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd, Amazon Robotics, YASKAWA Electric Corporation, Locus Robotics, OMRON Corporation, Fetch Robotics, Inc., IAM Robotics, Honeywell International Inc., and IBM.
Over the past few years, these key players have opted for M&A activities in order to expand their business. The small players of this market are also expanding the business by entering into the new region. For instance, GreyOrange, an Indian startup company, has expanded its business to the U.S., Japan, Singapore, and Germany.

Hype or reality?

Drones, driverless trucks and robots are commonly discussed in the logistics sector as game-changing factors, but are these concepts largely hype? LMH finds out.
When Amazon made its first-ever public Prime Air drone delivery in the US last year, people in the logistics sector started to consider and ask questions around whether this would be something that the industry would adopt in the near future.
Many of the tech giants, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and Uber, are investing in and testing drones, but is there really a place for drones in large-scale distribution?
The Amazon test that took place in 2017, saw a drone drop off some bottles of sunscreen for attendees at the company’s conference in California. While this grabbed the headlines globally, is this practical in terms of commercial and large-scale delivery?
According to Andrew Clark, Managing Director at Logistics Help, a lot of the technology that is gripping the media is a long way of from actual practical implementation. “Some of this technology is looking further and further into the future, this all may be coming, it’s definitely not in the near future.”
Andrew points out that, according to current Australian legislation, drones deliveries are prohibited in cities due to the 30 metre no fly radius from people. He then asks, whether we even want a world where there are thousands of drones flying around and delivering packages all the time?
While some do argue that these disruptive technologies will shape the future of logistics, Andrew refers to the Gartner Hype Cycle, to try to understand the implications of these advancements in technology.
The Gartner Hype Cycle was established to provide a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploring opportunities.
The methodology aims to give a view of how a new technology or application will evolve over time, providing a sound source of insight to manage its deployment within the context of specific business goals.
The hype cycle is broken down into five phases of a technology’s life cycle. According to Gartner, first there is the innovation trigger, this is the technology which kicks things off. There will be early proof-of-concept stories and media interest that trigger publicity, but often no usable products exist and commercial viability is unproven.
Next in the cycle is the peak of inflated expectations. At this stage, there are a number of success stories, much like Amazon’s sunscreen delivery. Here some companies start to take action and invest in the technology.
After this, Gartner describes what happens as a trough of disillusionment. The interest has faded as experiments and practical implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology fail and investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
Andrew offers the example of Rethink Robotics, a robotics company that launched in 2008 and closed in October this year. Rethink Robotics was a US-based company that pioneered the development of cobots ­– collaborative robots designed to work alongside humans.
“This concept was all over the news, it was impressive technology but we are at least five and probably ten of more years away from a robot that replaces a storeman or a worker. The Rethink Robotics just weren’t a product that people needed to buy,” Andrew says.
The final stage in the Gartner Hype Cycle is the plateau of productivity. This is when mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing viability is more clearly defined and the technology’s application and relevance starts to pay off.
For Andrew, some of the technologies that are currently in the early stages of the hype cycle are a long way from reality, especially for the small to medium enterprise market. “If a lot of these technologies get used at all, they will be largely for the big companies to live with the costs. At the moment, there is marginal or zero return on investment.”
Using drones as an example, Andrew says that if they do have a place in logistics it is most likely for remote deliveries. “With drones, there are issues around risk, loss of asset, damaged asset etc. If you were going to lose say 10 per cent of your drone fleet a year, you might just decide to put the parcel in a truck and drive it.”
Back to basics
Andrew argues that many businesses are yet to take advantage of technology that is already widely available. Warehouse Management Systems, for instance, have been on the market and transforming logistics operations for nearly 30 years. But according to Andrew, most are smaller and medium sized businesses are yet to take advantage of the technology.
“It’s all well and good talking about drones, robotics, Industry 4.0, but in many warehouses the most advanced technology used to assist order picking ia a piece of paper.”
Part of the slow deployment of technology is down to the perception of cost, but Andrew says the cost of logistics software and technology has fallen significantly over the last few years and it’s not more affordable than ever.
“The small businesses have the same problems as the big businesses. A small e-commerce business needs a very sophisticated warehouse system to run it. They can have 1000’s of orders a day, that are being processed entirely on a paper-based system. This could take 20-30 people to process, but with the right systems they could do it with half that number,” Andrew says.
As businesses start to scale up and grow, if they cannot fulfil orders accurately and on time, they won’t survive, he says. “There are two main problems that SMEs face with regards to logistics. They struggle to manage their inventory well and their warehouses are run with old and inefficient practices and little or no technology support.”
Sophisticated inventory planning is key in the e-commerce world. “You can easily have several million dollars of inventory and not be a big business. But if you are not buying and selling correctly you will over buy things that don’t sell and under buy things that do. Businesses end up losing sales because they can’t keep up with demand and have to discount, or discard underperforming stock,” Andrew says.
Many of the big corporations are doing all of the right things with regard to warehouse management, but Andrew believes that it’s the SMEs that are getting left behind. “When they start looking to improve their logistics operations they are often struggling to find the skills and knowledge needed to implement these systems.”
Andrew believes that SMEs should have access to the same advanced logistics practice and technology that are common practice in the corporate world, but the SMEs may be unaware of the many benefits they could realise. “SMEs would be far better off implementing better inventory management and warehouse management systems, before investing in over-hyped technology such as drones and robotics.”
 

DHL invests US$300M in emerging technologies

DHL Supply Chain has announced plans to deploy emerging technologies in 350 of its 430 facilities in North American facilities and transportation control towers as part of a $300 million investment.
Selected technologies will vary by customer needs, based on the outcomes of research and pilot programs completed by DHL’s internal innovation teams and collaboration with dozens of external innovators.
The availability – and practical utilisation – of these technologies is expected to help the diverse customer base including those addressing e-commerce and omnichannel challenges to minimise complexity, remove capacity constraints, and maximise service to their customers.
According to DHL, accelerating the implementation of selected technologies such as robotics, augmented reality, robotics process automation, IoT and DHL’s proprietary end-to-end visibility solution – MySupplyChain – is the objective of DHL Supply Chain’s global digitalisation strategy.
“This investment is about a holistic view of emerging technologies that enables our customers to achieve their growth and profitability goals. Our customers’ needs are not homogenous as each business and segment has unique challenges and levels of maturity. Therefore, it is important that our customers can benefit from our experiences and expertise with a variety of emerging technologies,” Scott Sureddin, CEO, DHL Supply Chain North America said.

XPO Logistics to deploy 5,000 collaborative warehouse robots

XPO Logistics plans to deploy 5,000 intelligent robots throughout its logistics sites in North America and Europe. The robots, designed to collaborate with humans, will supplement XPO’s existing workforce.
Chief executive officer of XPO Logistics Bradley Jacobs said: “We’ve developed our logistics technology to integrate the latest intelligent automation and adapt it at lightning speed. This allows us to dramatically improve fulfillment time and cut costs. The addition of 5,000 collaborative robots will make our logistics operations safer and more productive in picking, packing and sortation. These are important benefits for our customers – particularly in the e-commerce and omnichannel retail sectors, where order speed and accuracy are essential ways to compete.”
The autonomous robots are part of a modular goods-to-person system that also includes mobile storage racks and fulfillment stations. Each robot can move a rack weighing approximately 450 to 2,000kg, bringing it to a station where a worker picks up to 48 orders simultaneously. The entire process is controlled by XPO’s proprietary warehouse management system. This high-speed, flexible solution supports same-day and next-day deliveries by shortening order-to-shipment times and helping workers minimise walk-time and manual errors.
XPO’s latest robotics implementation is part of the company’s planned $450 million investment in technology this year. Other recent installations include the XPO Direct shared-space distribution network, voice integration with Amazon Echo and Google Home to track the last mile delivery of heavy goods, and the XPO Connect digital freight marketplace with multimodal infrastructure.
 

Robots for the supermarket

Drakes Supermarkets will be installing a robotic piece picking system in its new state of the art distribution centre (DC) in South Australia. It is the first time the robotic picking system will be deployed in Australia.
Drakes Supermarkets is one of Australia’s largest independent grocery retailers. The $80 million Drakes DC, which has received planning consent from the City of Playford and is fully funded by the South Australian family-owned business, will be located on a 17-hectare site at Edinburgh North and is expected to create up to 550 jobs.
“Our new facility will be the most advanced independent distribution and logistics centre in South Australia and is a key part of our group’s vertical integration strategy within the supermarket sector,” said Glenn Sutcliffe, logistics manager at Drakes Supermarkets. “We are excited that the centre will incorporate robotics as part of a wider high-tech warehouse picking system.”
To ensure high productivity and efficiency within the DC, Drakes has chosen Dematic’s RapidPICK 1-to-1 Goods-To-Person (GTP) including the Dematic Multishuttle buffering and sequencing system and robotic piece picking.
This is the first robotic piece picking module Dematic will deploy in Australia and only the second globally. The system will handle GTP compatible grocery products in an ambient environment.
“Some of the key benefits of the new Dematic system include the security of high-value items and increased pick rates, which meet Drakes Supermarkets’ needs in an increasingly competitive grocery sector,” said Terry Jamieson, business development manager at Dematic.
“As a business committed to continued growth, our goal is to build a new DC that allows us to offer the best level of service to our South Australian shoppers, as well as set the scene for our plan to expand nationally,” said Mr Sutcliffe.
 

From MHD magazine: Don’t blink

Christian Titze

If you’re a supply chain leader responsible for technology transformation, you must prepare for the impact of disruptive technology trends on people, business and IT.
Supply chain technology is seen as a source of competitive advantage, even a competitive differentiator, with organisations investing in strategic technologies in support of new business and operating models.
Start by identifying where it’s best to innovate and invest in new processes and technologies to remain competitive in your market. Seek feedback and ideas from stakeholders who can suggest if and where these technologies could be applied to produce better business outcomes.
The top eight
Gartner has identified a list of top eight trends for supply chain technology with broad industry impact. Review the list and identify how these technology trends can help your organisation seize new business opportunities or solve existing business problems. Pilot small projects to determine whether the potential benefit of the technology trend is worth the risk and required investment in new skills, capabilities or services needed to apply the trend to your business.
With all the hype around disruptive technologies it can be tempting to start exploring a trend before validating whether it can address a current business challenge or opportunity. First assess your company’s risk culture together with maturity stage, to determine your readiness to explore and possibly adopt strategic offerings. Risk-tolerant or risk-exploiting firms should explore technologies on this list now, while risk avoiders should wait.

“Conversational systems will drive the next big paradigm shift in how humans interact with the digital world.”

So, in no particular order:
1) Artificial intelligence
Uses for artificial intelligence (AI) in the supply chain are emerging, particularly to identify potential risk exposure. The main goal is to offer people new insights, without being explicitly programmed, based on identified patterns in large datasets from the enterprise, customers, suppliers or even the business ecosystem. These solutions may also predict future risks.
While there’s still hurdles to overcome, early adopters report promising benefits from limited scope pilots across the supply chain. Adopting these technologies improves decision making through augmenting users’ abilities or by automating certain supply chain processes. It also enables users to dedicate more time and talent to strategic network design, capacity planning or other high-impact activities.
2) Advanced analytics
The impact of advanced analytics – which spans predictive and prescriptive – on supply chain is significant. Predictive analytics are a powerful competency that enable companies to be proactive and take advantage of a future opportunity or mitigate or avoid a future adverse event. Prescriptive analytics, on the other hand, can improve decision making in functional areas like supply chain planning, sourcing, logistics and transportation. More importantly, it can be deployed to improve end-to-end supply chain performance because a course of action can be recommended that best manages the trade-offs among conflicting functional goals.
Benefits of advanced analytics include better quality, cost savings, uninterrupted customer service or bigger market share. Adoption can drive supply chain process redesign, with processes that fully relied on human judgement that can now be heavily powered with predictive and prescriptive analytics.
3) Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects that contains embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment. Adoption is growing in select supply chain domains, but rarely as part of a complete end-to-end supply chain process for now. One exception is the air and defence industry, where planes have thousands of sensors and data is leveraged in the extended supply chain.
Potential uses are in sourcing, manufacturing, logistics, demand management and services. Some manufacturers for example, are assessing the business value of expanding beyond their current use of operational technology. Logistics groups already use sensors to track assets or containers, and are now examining the additional benefits of IoT opening them to an internet-based world.
4) Intelligent things
Gartner describes intelligent things as having the ability to operate unsupervised for a defined period to complete a task. Intelligent things — such as autonomous vehicles, drones and robotics — will make their initial impact across a wide spectrum of asset-centric, product-centric and service-centric industries, particularly for their ability to do physical work with greater reliability, lower costs, increased safety and higher productivity.
Companies will also be able to shift goods faster, which may then pose a challenge for restocking and supplying demand. The ability for organisations to assist, replace or redeploy their human workers in more value-adding activities creates potentially high — and occasionally transformational — business benefits.
5) Conversational systems
Conversational systems will drive the next big paradigm shift in how humans interact with the digital world. They’re most recognisably implemented today in virtual personal assistants (such as Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa), in chatbots and virtual customer assistants. These systems can handle discovery questions and offer solutions without any human involvement.
Conversational systems can go as far as enabling transactions, handling payments, ensuring delivery and providing customer service. In warehouse operations, for example, industrialised ‘transactional voice’ technologies support the structured activities of frontline workers using speech recognition and/or speech synthesis technology to drive transactional activities, such as order, carton or item picking.
6) Robotic process automation
Robotic process automation tools offer potential ways to automate all or some stages of manual rule-based processes that were previously not automated. If applied to the right supply chain processes, they can reduce costs, speed up various manual tasks, eliminate keying error and link applications.
The types of processes organisations have applied robotic process automation tools to include elements of business partner onboarding, claims handling and processing, or regulatory compliance reporting. With early adopters in the finance and insurance industry, we now see other industries including supply chain taking advantage. The tools have proven to be very effective in simple uses, mainly where a third party in the supply chain will not provide an API or other means for automated data integration.
7) Immersive technologies
Immersive technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), are part of a new wave of computing devices that transform the way individuals interact with one another and with software systems. Supply chain businesses can use this technology to enhance their customer and employee digital experiences.
Uses from a variety of industries exist, such as repair and maintenance in manufacturing, logistics and warehousing — assisting with visual recognition of faulty equipment and providing visual overlays of repair instructions. It’s also being used for new product introduction and collaboration in heavy industry, manufacturing or field services, particularly for equipment design planning and review; machine and vehicle route planning; long distance person-to-machine collaboration; or helping remote technicians in real-time when encountering unknown problems.
8) Blockchain

“Supply chain management is a ripe territory for blockchain because of the distributed, multi-enterprise nature of complex global value chains.”

Blockchain technology, better known as distributed ledger, is a shared, immutable ledger for recording the history of transactions. Supply chain management is a ripe territory for blockchain because of the distributed, multi-enterprise nature of complex global value chains that routinely conduct business among multiple parties. Certain highly decentralised functions are prime candidates, such as smart contracts or traceability and authentication.
Blockchain offers promising opportunities to address issues such as efficiency improvements in transactions and interactions. Some early pilot projects include Maersk Line, which is sharing shipping data on a blockchain to enable multiple parties to settle upon insurance terms in less time. Walmart is also using blockchain to track packages of mangoes from farm to store shelves in the US, enabling visibility into the multiple stakeholders in the supply chain and supporting food traceability.
Blockchain is far off being mature, however, with only experimental uses so far, so be careful with this much hyped technology.
Christian Titze is a research vice president at Gartner. He focuses on supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and wider application of technology in supply chain. For more information, visit www.gartner.com/supplychain.
 
 
 

Global industrial automation market to reach $80.6 billion

Analysts from Research and Markets have announced in their latest report on industrial automation that the global industrial automation services market was worth US$35.2 billion ($44.5 billion) in 2016 and is estimated to reach US$64.5 billion ($80.6 billion) by 2022, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.6 per cent for the forecasted period.
Industrial automation involves automation of manufacturing, quality control and material handling processes, with control systems, information technologies and robots used to handle different processes in an industry. Various types of industrial automation include fixed or hard automation, programmable automation and flexible or soft automation. Project engineering and installation holds major share in this market. Advantages of industrial automation include increased productivity, improved product quality, reduced routine checks and improved operational efficiency.
According to the report, the US is currently at the head of the industrial automation market, followed by Europe. Asia Pacific (which includes Australia) is expected to be the fastest growing region in this industry. The reports says during 2015–16, US companies exported nearly US$10.5 billion worth of products to foreign markets.
Some of the key growth factors of this industry are the need for operational efficiency, rapidly growing SMEs, a growing inclination towards Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud-based automation, the growing demand for smart factories, mass customisation, supply chain synchronisation, integration of systems and increasing R&D and innovation in artificial intelligence and advancement in the M2M communication technology. High installation and maintenance costs and lack of trained professions are some of the constraints in this industry.
Major companies in this industry include Honeywell International, General Electric Company, Mitsubishi Electric, Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls, ABB, Samsung Electronics, Siemens AG and Schneider Electric. The report also pointed out that most of the regional and local vendors are vertically integrated. International players can grow by acquiring regional or local players.

Uni students compete with autonomous robot technology

Engineering students from across Australia and New Zealand are exploring smart transport technology through an autonomous robotics competition in September.
This year, the National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition (NIARC) has a theme of ‘Transportation Innovation’, which will see the autonomous robots navigate a ‘smart city’.
The robots must follow road rules, adjust speed in line with school zones and highways, pick up ‘passengers’ and return home safely. Each robot’s objective is to earn the most amount of points by completing the required tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“Today’s vehicles are supercomputers on wheels but there are still so many exciting innovations to come,” said Chandran Nair, Vice President for Asia-Pacific, National Instruments.
“Car manufacturers are racing to bring autonomous vehicles to market and the technology has the potential to change everything about the way we move people and goods. That’s why we are so excited to be able to offer students the opportunity to be a part of that change.
“The industry will face increasingly complex systems and demands for improved speed, productivity and efficiency. By enabling the students to work with industry-leading hardware and software, we can help provide them with the real-world skills needed to become tomorrow’s top engineers.”
Now in its seventh year, NIARC has grown from just 11 teams to more than two dozen, all from leading Australian and New Zealand universities. Previous winners include, University of Wollongong (2016), University of South Australia (2015), University of New South Wales (2014) and more.

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