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Indian industry is graduating fast from go-downs to modern warehouses

From manufacturing plants to retail stores, how important is material handling to the economy of a country?
We can look at this in 4 stages starting from manufacturing plant to mother DCs, consumption warehouses and finally to the retail stores.
Manufacturing Plant: In a manufacturing plant, raw materials need to be transported and conveyed to the packaging equipment; from here once everything is packed and palletised, it must go into the finished goods warehouse. In all these functions material handling plays a very critical role as there is a certain kind of inventory that needs to be stored, certain inventory that needs to be received at packaging and raw material warehouses, and they need to be brought to the shop floor. When it needs to be brought, it needs to be transported in a certain sequence and at a certain speed. This is what material handling does in a factory; apart from that when the goods are manufactured, they are stored for a certain period, especially in industries like Pharma it can go for a month as well, because the products need to be stored for one month and different quality parameters need to be tested before it can be released in the market. Otherwise also in India, industries such as White Goods, FMCG, Chemicals and Specialty Chemicals do store 3-30 days of inventory. This inventory needs to be mapped like where it needs to be stored, stacked and dispatched in a timely manner according to the needs of the other warehouse, which is at the consumer centre or as per the customer needs. In all these things, when one needs to store, move, and pick inventory one needs methods of material handling. For example, rack storage, pallet shuttle storage, AS/RS storage like single deep or double deep, etc., depending on the kinds of throughput, inventory, and the velocity profile of the inventory in the warehouse.

In the Indian context, the productivity of factories depend highly on how we move these raw materials, packing materials, and finished goods in the factory. Once productivity increases as a country we become more competitive and that boosts the economy as far as contribution of manufacturing to the economy.

Mother Distribution Centres: Where material comes from different manufacturing plants, and goes to the consumption stores. Here goods happen in the form of carton/pallet and goods out happens in most cases. Storage accuracy, density, throughput of both inwarding and outwarding will be managed by the kind of material handling equipment we use. Also the kind of inventory whether to cross dock, store for some time and if so, how long to store, etc., are all possible due to the kind of material handling methods and equipment we use.

Consumption Warehouses: Very near to the retail stores, sometimes a part of the retail stores, Micro Fulfilment Centres revolutionised the consumption of the retail e-grocery segment. Equipped with the modern day material handling equipment such as AMRs or AGVs, shuttle systems, mini-load AS/RS systems, picking technologies such as pick to light, pick by voice or pick by vision and warehouse software such as WMS/WCS/WES, these consumption warehouses enable delivery within 2-4 hours of ordering.

Retail Stores: For the goods to reach the retail stores, there is primary transportation where in from manufacturing plant to distribution centre in case of manufacturer, in case of organised retail, purchasing happens from mother distribution centre to either consumer warehouse and from a consumer warehouse to retail store. This plays an important role to the economy due to the sheer amount of work involved and the complexity of the material handling involved to achieve the objectives of customer satisfaction, low cost operations and overall supply chain efficiency.

The crucial role material handling plays in production, logistics and warehousing.

he manufacturing industry is still heavily reliant on conventional MHE even as automated options are available. What are the impediments in modernisation? Sangeet Kumar, CEO and Co-Founder, Addverb, a company offering automation and robotic solutions, is of the opinion that the Indian industry is graduating and is graduating fast from go-downs to modern warehouses. “In yesteryears’ go-downs, the goods were kept on the floor in an unorganised fashion and material movement used to happen through people carrying the goods from one point to another point. But due to the rise of ecommerce, GST and tremendous competition, some companies started taking the first step to build quality warehouses, i.e., warehouses that are structurally strong, stable, with good flooring and a height of minimum 7m-10m, and these companies are gradually moving towards modern ways of handling material. Still, this is 20-25% of total warehousing, and is not enough to bring a significant transformation in material handling. In fact, automation is much more meaningful when vertical space is utilised along with reasons such as throughput requirements, which can’t be achieved by increasing labour, space constraints such as single facility operations, equity or customer demand for instant gratification such as a 2-4 hour delivery window, then people need automation,” explains Sangeet Kumar.

How this homegrown robotics company is making man and machines work in perfect harmony

Addverb Technologies is a homegrown robotics company that wants to touch human lives by pioneering human robot collaboration. Instituted in the summer of 2016 by seasoned professionals and technocrats, it has focused on providing end-to-end automation solutions and follows a 4D (Discover-Design-Deploy-Dedicated Support) approach, which ensures that the right automation solution is provided for a customer’s problem, right from discovering the problem to designing the solution and selecting technology mix to project execution and after-sales support. Since it make its own hardware and software, that gives it an advantage as the product can be customised to meet any specific business process of the customer.

“Earlier, the automation players were only Italian, German and UK companies whose products were standardised with little scope for customisation,” recalls Sangeet Kumar, CEO and co-founder at Addverb Technologies. “They were extremely expensive too, so only the big players could afford automation; this limited the knowledge of automation to small and medium sized companies. Moreover, the large players that had some automation used to face a lot of challenges with the installed solutions.”

Challenges Faced By Entrepreneurs While Starting Their Own Startup And Their Success Mantra

We are born out of a desire to ensure that India does not miss out on the Industry 4.0 wave, started its journey with the team of 15 engineers who came together to foster innovation in the field of IOT, Robotics and IT. The biggest challenge was to educate the Indian manufacturing diaspora to embrace automation. Now the sector has taken a move and gradually experiencing the inevitable need to automate their processes.

Over a period of time, we have established ourselves as a preferred automation partner across India and now we are on our way to become a global Robotics player launching ourselves through partnerships across geographies and acquiring multinational client.

Are cobots the next wave of warehouse automation?

Robots are being used in the space of Industrial automation since a decade back and have undergone several updates during this period. Collaborative Robots or Cobots, are currently facing its boom period leveraging its easy configuration and app-based controls. Neeraj Sharma of Addverb Technologies is writing why cobots will play a big role in the development of the fourth industrial revolution and the industrial Internet of Things.

Invented in 1996, cobots have just started making an impact on various industries across the globe. These robots unlock the way to Industrial automation for almost every size of business. It is renowned as one of the cost-effective automation solutions which will work alongside humans, enhancing their capacities and simultaneously building their skills.

What is inside?
Cobots have built-in safety mechanism including power and force limiting technologies which make them safe to collaborate with human operators. Cobots are fashioned with inherent safety features like force feedback and collision detection. Hence, they are more precise, powerful and collaborative and take lesser time to deploy as compared to their conventional and bulky counterparts. For companies with seasonal demands, dynamic product lines or multiple processes can opt for cobots which can also be moved between different tasks.

They are equipped with sensors, smart technologies and systems which are linked with Industrial IoT solutions and specific systems. For the purpose of distance sensing, cobots are in-built with vision or radar sensors. This helps them to implement speed and separation monitoring. Non-ergonomic workstations can be greatly improved with the help of robots. Cobots are enabled with verbal command functions and incorporate voice interpretation.

Robot at your service: Machine healing for patients

Patients at the COVID facility of sector 39 Noida have gotten used to it, but the little robot that delivers medication to infected people has a promising future. Addverb Technologies is a global robotics, and industrial automation company that placed the robot that is programmed to enable basic operations at hospitals such as carrying food and medicines.

This robotic startup is also doubling down on using its new automated solutions, specially designed for its usage in hospitals, malls, airports, hotels, office spaces, etc to fight against COVID-19.

“We are six co-founders, and all worked together in Asian Paints. We were all there when the world’s largest paint factory opened at the time. Asian Paints opened another larger factory later. The thing is that the factories were all fully-automated,” says Amit Kumar.

Kumar noted that all the robot technology came from the US, EU and Japan, so “why not start robotics in India in a business sense. We have the tech and the know-how. We thought of the idea in March 2016, and by July of that year we were getting inquiries, and got our first customer.”

Addverb Technologies opens Singapore Office to further extend their global footprint

Global robotics company Addverb Technologies, have announced expansion of its footprints in South East Asia by establishing their first offshore entity in Singapore. The new office will serve as a strategic location and will focus on serving the company’s South East Asian customers by providing them best-in-class automation solutions to improve the efficiency and accuracy of their intra-logistics operations.

Continuing with innovative practices, human-centric products, and solutions to embrace Industry 4.0, this will be the company’s first office in this region. This decision deliberately focuses towards increasing brand awareness, exploring new partnership and business development across Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Australian sub-continent.

Commenting on the expansion news Mr Sangeet Kumar, CEO and Co-Founder, Addverb Technologies said, “We are extremely delighted to share this development amid the ongoing pandemic. Singapore strategically holds a significant importance in the Asia Pacific region with a great potential of developing as an innovation hub.”

He further added, “Over the next few quarters, we are targeting to reach the potential customer base and establishing brand presence by showcasing our products and solutions in various seminars and global Robotics’ events of South Asia region. Keeping this in mind, we have also participated in the Home Delivery Asia Virtual 2020, which is Asia’s first-of-its-kind virtual event dedicated to Retail Logistics. This would set the stage for embracing new partners, customers and suppliers to further enhance our vision of offering comprehensive solutions in the intra-logistics automation and robotics space.”

Dark warehouses: In the spotlight

Well, if you would notice in the last 14-15 years of its onset, the e-commerce industry has been a synonym for ‘explosive growth’ and there has been an exponential rise in terms of the number of SKUs they handle. Delivery time has changed significantly too; from being around 10 days to 24-hour delivery. Ecommerce has not only transformed how the businesses work but have changed the customer’s behaviour forever. The ‘want it now’ attitude of the customers is forcing businesses to upgrade their systems and processes to meet these expectations and they are assorting to automation by introducing autonomous Mobile robots, AGV for material transfer, driverless forklifts, palletising robots, Automated Storage And Retrieval System, automatic picking units through MPVs, cobots, Mobile robots, sorting robots, tilt-tray sorters, robotic packaging and depackaging units, powerful software such as Warehouse Management System, WES, MES, cloud solutions, a web of IoT solutions that provide visibility into everything inside the four walls of the warehouse, and to perfectly sync all the systems in real-time all the time.

If you could conceptualise one such warehouse, yes, you are right there and welcome to the wonderful world of ‘dark warehousing’!

Warehousing & Logistics: Trends to study on the go

The demand for inventory-carrying robots, stackers, forklifts and pallet trucks is high now. Indian start-up Addverb Technologies, for example works on Dynamo, an AGV that is used to transport diverse loads in the warehouse. Addverb offers a custom Dynamo AGV with different guidance systems including laser, inertial, wire and magnetic tape. It requires minimum to no human interference in the execution of picking operations in the warehouse. Going forward, warehouses will look at employing a combination of efficient automation technologies in order to control operational logistics costs.

We offer automation solutions that are flexible and affordable

What motivated the six co-founders to pursue this idea by investing their own money in an automation & robotics venture?

Sangeet Kumar, CEO & Co-Founder, Addverb Technologies

All six of us were working with Asian Paints and setting up some of the most automated factories in the world. This helped us experience how technology was disrupting manufacturing. Indian manufacturing got a boost in 2014 when India embarked on the ‘Make in India’ campaign. As we all had a passion for technology and had seen first-hand how robotics and automation can help to manufacture, and also due to the dearth of robotics players suitable to serve businesses in Indian conditions, we decided to start our own Robotics & Automation venture. The aim is to help businesses embrace automation and Industry 4.0 for their supply chain and manufacturing operations, thereby achieve flexibility, scalability, and improved operational performance.

When it comes to automation, there is a certain reluctance in even considering the option. Are things changing now?
Indian companies have not really embraced technology for their supply chain and not automated their operations to a large extent. When we started, there were only a few automation players and all of them are foreign players like Italian, German and British. But their products were typically not accustomed to Indian conditions and had little scope for any customisation as per the business requirements and operations in India, thus leading to a large ramp-up and commissioning time. This limited the adoption of automated solutions to a few large companies and these companies were also a bit reluctant to try out new solutions as they used to face a lot of challenges from the already installed solutions. Also, as these solutions are expensive the small and medium companies could not afford them. But now things are changing, our approach has been to educate the customer about the benefits of automation and as Indian companies are scaling up, they are realising the need for automation.

At Addverb, we offer automation solutions that are flexible and affordable, leading to wide-scale adoption. We have been able to provide solutions to a wide stratum of companies from young and budding start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Indian companies have also started realising that to cater to a more flexible and dynamic supply chain, they need to use technology and go for automation. Covid-19 has only hastened this move towards more automated and reliable supply chain and technology adoption.

What are the latest trends in India’s supply chain and manufacturing sector – is it ripe for advanced technologies like voice- and vision-based systems Addverb offers?

Sangeet Kumar with the other 5 co-founders

There have been some key triggers in last 5 years which have changed India’s supply chain and manufacturing sectors, such as the rise of E-Commerce and it’s spread into every nuke and corner of the country after internet data revolution, the growth of organised retail in major towns and cities, implementation of GST which led to the consolidation of small warehouses, the high real-estate prices in cities which forced the consumer warehouses to outside the city and supply and demand fluctuations.

These triggers necessitated a flexible supply chain to accommodate the demand surges and reliable warehousing operations that help in fulfilling the requirement within the stipulated time and in an accurate manner. As operations scale up, it is critical to improving the productivity of people working in the warehouses and factories. Technologies like Light, Voice and Vision-based systems can improve the productivity of manual operations by almost 5-10 times. Also, they ensure a 99% accuracy in warehousing operations. For instance, an operator in a warehouse can pick up to 60 items in an hour if he is using pen and paper to search and locate the item, the same operator can pick up to 240 items in an hour if he is using a Pick-By-Voice and up to 500 items in an hour if he is using a Pick-By-Light solution. Also, our solutions are custom designed to perform with rugged usage like our Rapido, pick to light is quite robust and Khushi, our pick by voice is available in 14 Indian regional languages apart from English and Hindi. Features like these make products quite versatile and universally applicable.

Does the company have its own infrastructure for hardware manufacturing? What kind of R&D set-up and spend it involves?
Consider the following points:
1. Addverb has built a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Noida with an area of 1,30,000 sq.ft and it is going to become operational in September 2020. This facility will be unique and one of its kind in the world where Robots will make Robots
2. Most automated factory in this space where robots will build robots. Both articulated and mobile robots would help us build our equipment
3. We are deploying ASRS, Carton shuttles and Mother and child shuttle for our storage and manufacturing
4. Capacity of the plant – 60 km of Case Conveyor, 8 km of Pallet Conveyor, 10,000 Carton Shuttles, 1800 Pallet and Mother shuttles, 2000 Mobile Robots, 10,000 Sorting Robots, 2,00,000 PTLs pa
5. World-class tool room and machine shop comprising of laser cutting, Powder Coating, Electronics Pick & Place and Assembly, VMC, CNC, and Vending Machines
6. For a company like us, R&D is an overly critical element to ensure our product pipeline remains ahead of the curve and we spend around 10% of our revenue on R&D. And this new factory will have a seating capacity of 450 engineers and one of the best robotic R&D lab with all the high tech equipment.

Covid-19 has added an urgency to adopt more automation – do you see this translating into business opportunities?
The latest development has been the rise of online deliveries for grocery and other personal care and home care items which has been triggered due to Covid-19 pandemic. Companies are also constrained by manpower availability to manage the warehousing operations as many people have left for their hometowns due to the lockdown. To maintain adequate social distancing and to ensure that the product is not touched by many people during the warehousing operations, the Goods-To-Person technologies like Mobile Robots, Carton Shuttle Robots have been picking up extremely fast. These technologies ensure fast, productive, and reliable warehousing operations. Another reason the rise of micro fulfilment centres which are sprouting across the country to ensure a low cost and fast last mile delivery of orders. MFCs can achieve their performance expectations through manual and automated solutions.

What ails Indian manufacturing which is proving so hard to scale up despite initiatives like Make in India?
Of late, the ease of doing business in India has improved by leaps and bounds, with many states now taking the ownership to attract investments from Indian and foreign companies. One of the most critical problems that Indian manufacturing faces is of availability of skilled manpower, which hampers the productivity of manufacturing operations. The lockdown implemented from March to May will only aggravate this problem as many skilled labourers have now migrated back to their hometowns. Also, high real estate prices, force the industries to move away from cities and towns to rural areas, which often do not have adequate infrastructure to support the operations. Automation seems to be the most potent solution to solve these two problems as it leads to optimum utilisation of space and makes your operation more reliable and accurate.

The Addverb Technologies team

Can Frugal Innovations and Scalable Solutions help make a self-reliant India?
Native intelligence has always solved pressing and complex issues. Apart from initial resistance, the most critical factor for technology adoption is affordability. Technology can only be adopted on a mass scale if it is affordable. Self-reliant India can only be formed with indigenous products. For instance, Indian Kiranas (grocery stores) have been unique and have survived the test of time despite the onslaught of e-commerce companies. We can very well see e-commerce companies tweaking their business models to accommodate the Indian kiranas. Similarly, Indian manufacturing also has problems which are very local in nature like manpower skill, quality of electricity supply, dust, etc., on top of the tremendous RoI pressures for automation projects. Also, automation solutions need to be affordable to a wide stratum of companies, i.e., big, medium, and small companies, hence a plug and play approach of arriving at solutions through different products, combination of both manual and automated products, etc., need to be devised. This make automation friendly to all sorts of companies depending on their scale, budget, and expectations. Steps like these, can make Indian manufacturing self-reliant.