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Suppliers respond to call for flexibility

16 May 2024

The LogiMAT event, held in Stuttgart in March, brought the cream of the world’s intralogistics suppliers together for an extravaganza of astonishing new technology. Logistics Matters editor Simon Duddy reports.

RAPID ADVANCES in technology really stood out at the recent LogiMAT event, but what also stood out was how suppliers are keenly listening to their customers’ desires for more flexible warehouse technology that is better suited to a time of constrained capital and greater uncertainty.

Dematic director of global robotics Kevin Heath was greatly enthused at the show as the company publicly unveiled its bin-to-picker system, which is very much a response to the need for flexibility.

“We saw the trend was going more towards mobile and less towards hard automation and so we started investigating our options. We are in a good position in that we offer multiple tote-based ASRS, from Miniload, to AutoStore, AMR-based bin-to-picker, to MultiShuttle, comprising a range of capabilities.

“The bin-to-picker solution is for customers who don’t need the fixed infrastructure or throughput of a Multishuttle. Floor quality is also a factor, as AMRs have higher tolerances here, compared to AutoStore, for example. Customers buying this system are often looking to relocate in two or three years. AMRs with a mobile base are very flexible to relocate.

“While constraints on captial are demotivating customers to invest in, for example, a Multishuttle, there is still a place for Multishuttle when the throughput demands are sufficient.

Kevin Heath, director of global robotics, Dematic

“The market is pushing in this direction, especially in Europe. I think people would want a Multishuttle or an AutoStore ideally, but not everyone can afford that fixed automation right now. The bin-to-picker system is a flexible, cost-conscious option.”

Dematic is developing the technology not just to cover bin-to-picker operations, but also for pallet and shelf-to-picker, all via mobile robots. The firm has installed the technology with eComm focused 3PL Radial in the Netherlands, and is presently working on a project with a Canadian grocer, with many other projects in the pipeline. 

The software strategy is one of the most important factors in terms of getting more out of the system over time, boosting slotting, shuffling, battery recharging and more. 

Kevin explains: “We have taken our vast Multishuttle learnings and we are maturing this in the mobile space learning the nuances that exist there.”

Dematic purchases AMRs and the fleet management software layer from Quicktron, with Dematic engineers in charge of deployment, configuration, commissioning and support. Dematic then places its WCS layer on top, so it can manage a broad set of logistics processes including packing, receiving, and shipping.

“Most AMR firms don’t have a WCS, so that gives us an advantage and with less IT complexity to manage, it de-risks the project for the end customer.”

Scalable options

TGW Logistics has taken scalability and flexibility to heart, using LogiMAT to highlight its impressive range which allows it to address many customer profiles.

Its innovations included SmartPocket - a disruptive hanging goods conveyor that uses intelligent mobile robots that travel autonomously along a system of intersecting rails. Conventional pocket sorters are only scalable in large increments and leave a lot of potential unexploited outside of peak times. SmartPocket addresses these challenges by tailoring the easily scalable technology to actual needs. Realisation spans six months from the signing of the contract to go-live.

TGW CEO Henry Puhl says: “The pocket sorter is so flexible, the bots make the system much easier to adjust than having chains to move the hangers.”

As mobile robots are a key technology for high-performance, future-fit intralogistics systems, TGW has built out its Quba portfolio since 2022. The range consists of TGW fleet management software and mobile robots for transporting different types of load carriers from cartons and totes to pallets. TGW, in partnership with SAFELOG, is taking Quba robots to market.

Henry Puhl, CEO, TGW

Further driven by partnership, TGW, working with OPEX, has introduced LivePick Order Fulfillment System. This consists of a storage system with robots to handle storage and retrieval. Mobile robots then bring the order cartons to ergonomic 1:1 picking workstations. The central advantage is the scale of LivePick can be adjusted extremely quickly and adapted to changing conditions and any order profile. It has a lead time of 6-12 months.

Puhl explains: “Picking is a key process in the warehouse and our FlashPick system is a top performer but we introduced LivePick to hit the market that demands lower levels of throughput but high levels of flexibility.”

For very high throughputs, TGW introduced RovoFlex, a highly-automated picking robot with an intelligent camera system. The PickCenter RovoFlex constitutes a hybrid picking station based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Customers can switch smoothly between manual and automatic mode. RovoFlex achieves a throughput of over 1,000 items per hour.

Ask questions

Swisslog CEO Jens Schmale says it is important to query if it’s hardware or software flexibility you need.

“Is it seasonal? Is it due to the development of the business? We will react in different ways, it may involve new systems, or it may involve an evolution of the software system. Crucially, we also have partners who can help customers finance the transformations they need to implement to boost their warehouse operations,” explains Jens.

Swisslog also offers pay-per-pick, via a finance partner, which interestingly offers different volumes of picks at different price ranges. Very much with a customer-first approach, Swisslog also will buy back systems from customers, quality check and resell to give customers more flexible options, as well as renting out robots for Peak seasons.

Jens also agreed that 3PLs are cautious at the moment in some markets, but not all, he added.

Jens Schmale, CEO, Swisslog

“In Germany, for example, 3PLs are happy to invest and often these 3PLs perceive themselves more or less as integrators.”

Swisslog sees modular automation are key for the entry-level of the market where investment levels are low.

“I think in the end the labour shortage is the biggest driver behind automation,” says Jens. “Many companies are going for entry level automation, but in the future when they hit the limits of that, they will be encouraged to invest in more powerful, higher throughout systems. This makes the entry level market an important one for us, that we want to serve with our established range of options, from entry level to high performance, because we want to grow with our customers.”

Swisslog has the CarryPick solution and is also exploring more options in the AMR sector, as well as looking to leverage the broad portfolio of its parent company KUKA. That said, Swisslog’s main focus is not on the product, but on the application.

Jens explains: “Automation needs to serve humans, we do not want to talk about cranes, we want to talk about the job to be done to help people. Also, no matter what the solution, people are key to making any project work. 

“There are often hurdles in the project business but how to handle and overcome this is key. We are solution orientated and we work shoulder to shoulder with customers to solve any problem.”

Continuing in this practical vein, Swisslog views AI as in the exploration stage. 

“We are taking AI seriously but we are not interested in using it as a buzzword, when we have a precise, meaningful solution the market will hear more. What we see today is more linear intelligence. Once AI gains in sophistication and can connect different sources, which does not exist in our industry today, it will really come into play,” says Jens.

Inherently flexible

AMR provider Locus Robotics has always supplied an inherently flexible product, and this has always been a key selling point of the solution, but that has been ever more evident in recent years. 

Vice president EMEA & APAC Denis Niezgoda, says: “It’s not new, but the flexibility offered by our mobile robots is ever more important. In the last two years the 3PL market has been negatively impacted by the macroeconomic outlook, uncertainty, higher cost of capital, greenfield deployments have halted, and companies are looking to squeeze their existing assets.

“There are many automated solutions to support order picking, but not all have same pros and cons. With stationary automation, you have the performance, but if volumes and order profiles change, you don’t have the flexibility to respond with it. With our solution, if the volume changes, you can flex the number of robots up and down. If the order profile changes, you can adjust the capacity of the bots.”

Denis Niezgoda, vice president EMEA & APAC, Locus Robotics

Locus used LogiMAT to highlight the evolution of its portfolio. The Locus Origin bot has expanded in capacity, and it has introduced Vector, which has an even bigger payload, up to 280kg. This allows Locus to add order profiles that have not been applicable thus far, and also opens us up to more production-led applications, or for case picking operations.

“The larger capacities also opens up more possibilities for replenishment activities,” says Denis. “The bots can be inter-leaved, operatives can pick with an Origin bot and then move on to replenishment with the Vector bot.”

One of the products Locus launched at the show is LocusHub, essentially a consolidation of reporting tools.

“The goal is to have a grasp of harmonised data to manage the solution in real time, with optimisation of slotting strategies etc, and using predictive analytics to prepare for what’s coming, for example, for Peak seasons in terms of labour management,” says Denis.

What does the future hold for Locus?

Denis explains: “We are naturally evolving where it makes sense by listening to customers. Not every process demands automation even if it is technically possible. We’ve started with each picking, now we are handling higher payloads, and going into case picking, where we are well suited. We will focus on core tasks, get them right, and expand from there.”

Operator assistance

Yale Lift Truck Technologies used the show to highlight its recent innovation in operator assistance technologies for MHE. Yale Reliant comprises advanced dynamic stability technology that adjusts performance of the lift truck or warehouse equipment in real time, assisting the operator to not exceed the truck’s capabilities. This may be a reduction in travel speed or truck acceleration, or a reduction in lift speed or tilt speed. 

Vice president marketing and solutions EMEA Robert O’Donoghue, told us at LogiMAT: “End users have been very enthusiastic about Yale Reliant, particularly the warehouse managers. This is because it is a combination of training aid and guide for inexperienced drivers. This is one their biggest concerns, managing a constantly rotating fleet of inexperienced drivers.

Robert O’Donoghue, vice president marketing and solutions EMEA, Yale Lift Truck Technologies

“Initially not all operators are enthusiastic, but because it encourages good behaviour very quickly the operatives typically soon see the benefit.”

It is of less utility for experienced forklift operators, unless you suspect that some may have slipped into bad habits over the years.

Robert continues: “The sweet spot is medium to large operations with a high turnover of inexperienced staff. There are a lot of companies like this, getting and keeping experienced staff is an ever-growing challenge.”

Rapid expansion of RFID

The RFID market has transformed in the last six years, expanding from its ‘heartland’ in front of store fashion, says Zebra RFID director EMEA Mark Jolley.

“That is down to retailers getting ROI from front of store inventory and extending that to the warehouse and further back through the supply chain. We’ve seen 3PLs using RFID to win contracts by improving their efficiency, and we’ve seen manufacturers tagging right back to source, moving from clothing to automotive, pharma and fertilisers, for example, products with track and trace regulations in place.”

Mark Jolley, RFID director EMEA, Zebra

The performance of readers, inlays and antennas has improved in recent years, with prices for the technology being very stable. 

Mark continues: “In a typical DC scenario you are scanning boxes and pallets one by one, but by using RFID the tags are recognised automatically when going through the gate or overhead reader. You can be alerted if the wrong load is going to the wrong place, removing a human point of failure, while loading far faster. Likewise, you can do automated receiving at the destination whether it’s an RDC or cross-dock.”


We hope we have brought you a flavour of the technology and suppliers that lit up LogiMAT. No doubt we will feature much more in the coming issues of the magazine. Just to note, the next LogiMAT takes place from March 11-13, 2025 at the Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre.