Micro-fulfilment has become a top supply chain priority for automated fulfilment centres and is gaining momentum across Australia and New Zealand. MHD sits down with Paul Phillips, General Manager ANZ at Hai Robotics to discuss how the company’s innovative approach is helping retailers increase order efficiencies and shorten the last mile.
Before the pandemic, distribution centres were the primary source of products moving to retail stores and end consumers. As we know, consumer expectations for faster delivery have changed forever, which prompts retailers and e-commerce businesses to search for the fastest and most efficient way to fulfil online orders.
Experiences and challenges from the pandemic created big demand for high-density, mini warehouses at the back of stores to function as Micro-Fulfilment Centres (MFCs). Micro-fulfilment places small-scale, automated warehouse facilities in densely populated urban locations using existing facilities, converting an existing facility, or building a dedicated space.
With e-commerce sales expected to reach $6 trillion by 2024, e-commerce pressures have created the perfect storm for micro-fulfilment strategies, which are gaining big momentum across Australia after successful deployment across Europe and the US.
Hai Robotics is at the forefront of leveraging robotics and automation to be closer to the consumer and increase order fulfilment efficiency. Established in 2016, the company is pushing the envelope in robotics technology, with a vision to empower every warehouse and factory with logistics robots.
The MFC solution
According to Paul Phillips, General Manager ANZ at Hai Robotics, a MFC is ideally suited to back of store operations, for the picking of orders from online. This can be for grocery across multiple temperature zones, fashion, small electrical, hardware and more. MFCs produce more than 150,000 order lines per week, average 10-25 order lines, have an 8000-15,000 SKU range and demand instant and same day delivery.
“MFC solutions from Hai Robotics allow the retailer to create a high-density storage solution that can deliver “at store fulfillment” in a very small footprint at high-speed. Hai solutions are incredibly flexible and scalable, allowing retailers to start with a small part of the product range, and expand as the market demand increases for these solutions,” Phillips says.
Hai Robotic’s first MFC operation had ACR robots picking, transporting, and delivering orders in “pick-up” stores in the Netherlands, merging online ordering with a pick-up shop. Here, the customer places an order and robots immediately pick and sort orders in the distribution centre. The DC prepares the orders in totes that are sent to the pick-up shop. Once the order arrives at the pick-up shop, the tote is put on a conveyor belt which guides the tote to the storage area. The order remains on the shelves until the customers come to pick it up. This technology has been adapted to suit MFCs around the world.
“Hai’s MFC solution uses a mini-AMR solution which allows for a higher density ACR solution, whilst maintaining very high throughput,” Phillips explains. “By keeping the ACR in the storage aisles and allowing the mini-AMR to take care of the delivery of the totes to and from the storage to the workstations, the solution is capable of reducing the number of ACR robots required in a space, while at the same time increasing the throughput at the workstations.”
Hai’s MFC solution is its highest density and throughput solution yet, capable of more than 18000 bins (600*400*300), storage with 1000 sqm (6 metres high) and up to 10 metres picking height.
Fast deployment is a critical factor for MFCs – the faster the robots are up and running, the quicker businesses see return on investment. Some complex systems are not suited to MFC, for instance, multi-shuttle typically requires a total revamp of the facility, forcing a retailer to replace existing equipment with a new, custom-made installation. In comparison, goods-to-person robotic systems can be quickly deployed and often incorporate existing shelves and bins.
“MFC solutions can be implemented in as little as six months, taking into account solution design, manufacturer and implementation. Hai Robotics manufactures our robots in one of our two manufacturing locations in China to support our global markets,” he notes.
Phillips explained that the demand for micro-fulfilment started to gain momentum in Australia’s major cities through the pandemic and is becoming increasingly popular for retailers and 3PLs.
“Hai Robotics is working with a retailer in Australia to implement contactless Click and Collect,” he says. “Utilising the Hai system, the customer will be able use their existing systems to pick orders for customers. The customer will then present in-store with an email confirmation barcode to the kiosk to collect their items. The kiosk will then seamlessly trigger the delivery of the customers item or items to the kiosk collection point via the HAI A42 Robot. This will allow the customer to quickly collect their items, and at the same time free up store staff to work on other tasks.”
Phillips outlined 10 key considerations and best practices for business creating an MFC strategy:
- Store location is critical. It is ideal for stores to be located closer to higher density areas, ensuring a high demand for fast fulfilment of online orders.
- Work with Hai Robotics to ensure the right solution is selected to fit within the allocated area to maximise storage density and throughput.
- Ensure master data accuracy to ensure the system can correctly identify and store SKUs in the system.
- Upstream systems need to be able to seamlessly integrate with the MFC order fulfilment solution to ensure minimal disruption to the system.
- Ensure proper engagement and training of the team prior to implementing a new system.
- Focus on the customer experience to remove any frustrations when interacting with the system.
- Leverage the data that comes from the system to develop strategies around customer preferences.
- Scalability is important to ensure future growth is taken into consideration.
- Choose a partner with a history of delivering Case and Tote handling robotics into multiple temperature environments
For more information on Hai Robotics, click here.