Fully automated warehouse pilot launched in Japan

by Emily Atkins

A new pilot project is pairing autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) with picking robots to create a fully autonomous goods-to-robot warehouse operation.

Logistics service provider Konoike Transport Co., Ltd. and e-commerce robotics specialist OSARO have teamed up on the project at the Konoike Institute of Technology Innovation Center (KITIC).

An inVia AMR enroute to collect a tote.

Case picking and piece picking

The pilot will demonstrate automation of logistics processes by linking AMRs from inVia Robotics and OSARO’s piece-picking robot. The AMR locates the shelf in the warehouse where the required items are stored. It retrieves the correct inventory storage bin and carries it to the pick-and-place robot station. The picking robot picks the item from the inventory storage bin and places it in a different bin, ready for shipment.

The picking robot uses OSARO’s advanced AI vision system. The robot can perform advanced pick-and-place operations by recognizing transparent, deformed, reflective, and irregularly shaped items – even if they are randomly arranged in the inventory storage bins.

The system does not require product registration, meaning it can handle all SKUs in a warehouse without ‘training’.

Picking a case from storage.

“The system we created is an example of a modular, flexible, and brownfield-compatible fulfillment system. Future warehouses will leverage systems like this to scale up for increasing demand from customers without requiring hiring additional manual labour,” said OSARO CEO Derik Pridmore.

Labour shortage

The displacement of traditionally manual tasks by smart robotics is expected to address the global issues of increasing logistics volume and cope with accelerating labour shortages due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The prototype is meant to demonstrate that tasks such as inventory movement and picking items for order fulfillment can be fully automated. Through this pilot, the partners aim to identify any issues that might arise when multiple robotics automation solutions interact, and to resolve these issues ahead of the deployment.

“We are honored to be the first in Japan to conduct a demonstration prototype of an OSARO picking solution with an AMR. We decided to work with OSARO because we believe that OSARO is superior for use in the rapidly changing logistics field in terms of automatic machine learning, data collection, and accurate picking,” said Tadatsugu Konoike, director and senior managing executive officer at Konoike Transport Co., Ltd.

“Japan is facing a shortage of labour due to the declining birthrate and aging population, but we hope to turn this challenge into an opportunity and develop a new form of workplace at KITIC and introduce it to the world.”