Flipkart has deployed 100 odd robots to help sort packages at one of its delivery hubs in the outskirts of Bengaluru, the first such instance of the Walmart-owned e-commerce giant deploying robotics to streamline its supply chain.
The robots, dubbed automated guided vehicles (AGVs), pick products from a conveyor belt, scan them and then drop them down a chute that’s assigned to a particular pin code. The robots work in a tight grid, using collision avoidance technology to ensure free movement.
“The big problem that we want to solve with automation in e-commerce is supply chain. We want to solve for precision, we want to solve for scale and we want to solve for efficiency. All of these aspects are very important for us if we want to reach the next 200 million customers,” said Krishna Raghavan, SVP of technology at eKart.
The installation as it stands today is able to sort 4,500 packages in an hour, ten times more than a single human would be able to do manually in the same time. Moreover, the throughput of the system can be increased by five times with minimal increases in infrastructure and addition of more robots. The development comes in at a time when Technavio’s analysts have predicted that the industrial automation and instrumentation market in India will grow at a CAGR of 6.85% during the period 2018-2022.
Pranav Saxena, VP of robotics and automation at eKart said that the system, which was co-developed along with vendors, is ideal for e-commerce in India which sees a lot of peaks in orders during sale periods. “You can increase the number of bots and get more scale from the same floor area using the same resources,” Saxena added.
Flipkart, which plans to deploy the bots at delivery hubs across India, said their use in its supply chain will not affect the employment of people. Instead it said they will augment the capabilities of its human workforce by freeing them up to do more value-added work, for which it is already running re-skilling programmes.
“In terms of up-skilling, while you have a person just placing a product on the bot as one activity, there’s more that happens behind the scenes when it comes to operating that machinery. The other thing is when we expand this offering to other facilities, these folks will actually become trainers,” added Raghavan.
Each robot improves Flipkart’s warehouse manpower productivity by a factor of three, which might sound like a good case for the company to replace employees with robots. But, the company says that robotics and automation is necessary to supplement its human workforce for it to cater to the massive growth in online shopping that it is anticipating.
(Image Courtesy: www. multichannelmerchant.com)