In 2022, the store is everywhere. While brick-and-mortar retail certainly isn’t going away, U.S. consumers have learned to shop online. And once they purchase an item, they’re conditioned to expect countless ways of receiving it.
Curbside pickup, same-day delivery, and buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) — all are symptomatic of the e-commerce era, one in which fulfillment is king. Berkshire Grey (NASDAQ: BGRY), one of the leading warehouse robotics solutions providers, knows it. The company on Thursday announced the launch of a platform that can turn any facility into a fully automated fulfillment center.
Berkshire Grey’s next-generation solution, BG FLEX, uses a fleet of connected autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that integrate into a variety of settings. They can be deployed in microfulfillment centers, distribution centers and even in back-of-store fulfillment environments.
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Once the solution is in place, the robots then work together to induct, transport, sort, sequence and fulfill orders of all kinds, including non-conveyables and heavy items up to 60 pounds. The package also includes picking stations suited for goods-to-person picking, an increasingly popular strategy that uses AMRs to bring orders directly to the picker.
“Retail enterprises that approach their supply chains holistically can save millions of dollars and take care of customers faster and more profitably by investing in mobile robotic automation,” said Berkshire Grey President and COO Steve Johnson.
“This generation of our AI-enabled mobile robotic platform harnesses mobile swarm technology, integrated buffer and robotic picking along with advances in software and hardware performance that transform fulfillment operations at their core,” he added.
BG FLEX upgrades a retailer’s warehouse automation in a few ways. For one, the mobile swarm technology that Johnson mentioned orchestrates the work of hundreds — even thousands — of AMRs in concert, including across facilities.
The robots function like a hive mind, using AI and machine learning to adapt to changes and communicate with one another. In doing so, Berkshire Grey ensures there is no single point of failure. If one robot malfunctions, there will always be another ready to take its place, equipped with the same knowledge of the operator’s system.
Another enticing piece of BG FLEX is the time, or lack thereof, it takes to implement. According to Berkshire Grey, setting up the platform in a new facility takes just a few days. Other solutions can take weeks or months to stand up.
Because the AMRs essentially function as mobile conveyor belts and sortation machines, they can fit within the framework of both new and existing facilities. BG FLEX also includes open APIs, allowing the AMRs to integrate with palletizers, automated storage and retrieval systems and other warehouse technologies. The platform even lets operators simulate how the robots would fit into their facilities using advanced digital twinning technology.
All of this makes the fulfillment process easier for retailers and operators. In the warehouse or distribution center, BG FLEX’s robots store, pick and sort items as they arrive — that includes returned goods, which the platform automatically integrates with existing inventory. It can even store and consolidate partial orders with filled orders, enabling just-in-time loading.
In the microfulfillment center, BG FLEX’s sortation capabilities can reduce the amount of time employees spend reshelving. That in turn increases the time they spend at the pick station, allowing them to fulfill e-commerce orders faster.
Then once an order is ready to be shipped, the platform facilitates delivery-route alignment for easy home delivery. But if a customer wants to receive the order another way, BG FLEX can do that too. It’s set up to enable options like BOPIS and curbside pickup, and through a granular presorting process, it’s able to reduce truck unloading and aisle replenishment times.