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Modern Shipper Top 10: Warehouse automation and fulfillment

E-commerce has continued to drive change in fulfillment operations, and that has meant more robots than ever before

As fulfilment operations evolve to meet fast-shipping demands of e-commerce, robotics has become the default option to increase throughput. (Photo: inVia Robotics)

Modern Shipper launched in February with a mission of highlighting the ever-growing last mile of the supply chain. Throughout the year, we learned a lot, and our readers helped inform us of plenty more.

Looking back on the year that was, there were plenty of stories that resonated with our readers — from drones to automation, from gig workers to last-mile delivery providers. Of course, we can’t forget e-commerce, which is rapidly changing the supply chain and everything and everybody that touches it.

We thank you for taking the time out of your day to visit our site, read our articles and engage with us, whether that is through modernshipper.com, by becoming fans of our social media channels or watching At Your Doorstep with host Kaylee Nix, the FreightWavesTV show dedicated to the last mile.

However you choose to engage with us, thank you.

Now, as we look back at 2021, here are the 10 most popular stories that appeared on modernshipper.com. Today, we look at warehouse automation and fulfillment operations.

10. A little help from our friends

(Photo: Locus Robotics)

DHL Supply Chain, a leader in contract logistics within Deutsche Post DHL Group, announced a framework agreement with Locus Robotics to continue expanding its automation collaboration that began in 2017 as an important piece to DHL’s Accelerated Digitalization Strategy. Within this extended agreement, DHL plans to add 2,000 robots by 2022, making it Locus Robotics’ largest customer. DHL already had more than 500 assisted picking robots in use and planned to add 500 more to over 20 locations by the end of 2021.


Read: DHL extends warehouse automation partnership with Locus Robotics

9. The next frontier

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Due to strong consumer spending, the growth of e-commerce and other factors, transportation companies are incorporating more automation and tech into their operations to streamline administrative tasks and give more visibility to customers. The industry’s digital transformation is well underway. Based on a PitchBook report from 2020, venture capital investment in warehousing automation technology in particular saw a 57% increase from 2019 to 2020. Automation is now leading the way.

Read: Warehouse automation the next necessary frontier of logistics digitization

8. Robots ahead

(Photo: Fetch Robotics)

Among the select group of people who had a banner year in 2020 were founders of warehouse robotics startups, who saw venture capital investment in warehouse automation shoot up more than 50%. The money flow coincided with a massive surge in e-commerce orders and a shift toward smaller batch items (people ordering one pair of socks or a six-pack of baby formula). These trends are sending manufacturers and brands on a frantic hunt for ways to bring down the costs associated with warehouse tasks — sorting, picking, ordering and packaging — as well as radically improve the efficiency of the entire operation.

Read: Warehouse automation: What’s in store for 2021

7. People watching

(Photo: MarylandGovPics/Wikimedia Commons)

Nimble Robotics, an e-commerce warehouse automation company, announced a $50 million series A financing round led by DNS Capital and GSR Ventures with participation from Accel and Reinvent Capital. Nimble plans to use the funds to deploy more robots to its customers and expedite hiring for further product and technology development. Nimble’s robots develop new skills from observing actions performed by another agent, known as deep imitation learning. This enables its robots to integrate quickly with new customer processes.

Read: Nimble Robotics raises $50M for fulfillment automation

6. Welcome to Savannah

(Photo: Port of Savannah)

Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) will open its first fulfillment center in Savannah. The 640,000-square-foot facility, which is scheduled to open next year, will contain Amazon’s robotics technology and create 1,000 full-time jobs, according to a statement from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office. The facility will support the order fulfillment of smaller items like books, toys and small household goods, the statement said. 

Read: Amazon to open first fulfillment center in Savannah

5. Let the money flow

(Photo: Flowspace)

Fulfillment technology platform Flowspace has announced a $31 million series B funding round led by BuildGroup. The company now has raised a total of $46 million. This round also included past investors Canvas Ventures, Industrious Ventures, Moment Ventures, 1984 Ventures, eGateway Capital and Y Combinator. In an interview with FreightWaves, Ben Eachus, the co-founder and CEO of Flowspace who managed e-commerce growth while at the Honest Company, explained his frustrations with fulfillment and warehousing capabilities. “It is very hard to find warehouse space quickly. There is no website or list to find the warehouse to fit your needs,” Eachus said. “Our platform creates an omnichannel for both businesses and warehouses so they have the opportunity to grow with each other.”

Read: Flowspace raises $31M for omnichannel fulfillment

4. No, we are not open

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) is converting one of its Dallas stores into a Market Fulfillment Center for online pickup orders as the retail giant seeks faster ways to serve customers. It will be Walmart’s first Market Fulfillment Center in Texas and only the third in the U.S., Walmart spokesman Charles Crowson told FreightWaves. The aim of the new facility — in north Dallas at 13739 N. Central Expressway — is to allow more customers quicker access to general merchandise and fresh groceries. 

Read: Walmart retools Dallas store into fulfillment center

3. The better to see you

(Photo: Coros)

Coros, a real-time visibility provider for e-commerce and parcel fulfillment, announced it raised a $6.1 million seed round of venture capital funding led by Dynamo Ventures. Susa Ventures, Greenhawk Capital, Fontinalis Partners, Engage VC, Flexport and Stord CEO Sean Henry also participated in the round. Coros was founded in December 2020. The company is helmed by Chief Executive Officer Martin Hitch. “Coros is building the visibility platform that the high-growth parcel sector deserves and needs to support long-term growth exceeding 15% this year,” said Santosh Sankar, a partner at Dynamo Ventures. “Coros’ data is extremely accurate and can provide best-in-class shipment visibility, but more importantly helps shippers and 3PLs monitor their fulfillment operations and take action to avoid mispicks, delays and customer dissatisfaction that can amount to more than a billion dollars of cost at some of the world’s largest shippers.”

Read: Coros raises $6.1M to bring computer vision to e-commerce parcel fulfillment

2. A hero in logistics clothing

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

ShipHero, a New York-based e-commerce software and fulfillment provider, announced it raised $50 million from Riverwood Capital. The deal values the company at $225 million post-money. The investment represents the first institutional money ShipHero has taken on: The company scaled to a $30 million revenue run rate on just $435,000 raised from friends and family years ago. ShipHero has two primary lines of business: software-as-a-service and e-commerce fulfillment. Today, ShipHero’s software platform accounts for about $13 million in annual revenue, and its fulfillment business generates approximately $20 million in annual revenue.

Read: ShipHero raises $50M to expand e-comm fulfillment network

1. South of the border

(Photo: Amazon)

Amazon opened two fulfillment centers outside the populous Mexico City area in the cities of Guadalajara and Monterrey. Company officials said the new facilities represent a $100 million investment in Mexico as Amazon aims to offer faster deliveries to more people across the country. The two facilities encompass a combined 742,710 square feet and create 1,500 direct and indirect jobs, Amazon said. Monterrey is located in northern Mexico, about 140 miles from the United States-Mexico border. Guadalajara is located in central Mexico. Both cities are the largest metropolitan areas of the country after Mexico City.

Read: Amazon opens two new fulfillment centers in Mexico

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and fleetowner.com. Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]