International trade has been particularly challenging in the past few years, with political conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and supply chain problems affecting customer satisfaction and profits. But robots can enable companies to overcome these challenges. HAI Robotics this week said that it has successfully helped WINIT, a Chinese cross-border warehouse operator, with its e-commerce order-fulfillment business in the U.K. as the holiday shopping season begins in earnest.
Founded in 2016, HAI Robotics has more than 1,200 staffers, more than half of whom are engineers. It said it has acquired more than 600 global patents for core intellectual properties involving positioning, robot control, and warehouse management. The Shenzhen, China-based company has subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, the U.S., and the Netherlands.
HAI Robotics claimed that its award-winning HAIPICK autonomous case-handling robot (ACR) system for warehouse logistics, independently developed in 2015, is the first of its kind. The company has raised more than $200 million in its Series C and D rounds this year.
Accelerating demand causes cross-border crunch
Demand for global warehousing services has dramatically surged with e-commerce growth in the past few years, said HAI Robotics. In 2020, Chinese cross-border trade volume amounted to RMB1.69 trillion ($260 billion U.S.), rising 31.1% from the previous year. That figure is estimated to increase to RMB16 trillion ($2.5 trillion) in 2021.
By 2020, the number of overseas warehouses owned by Chinese operators exceeded 1,800, totaling more than 12 million sq. m (129 million sq. ft.) in land area, said the company.
“However, cross-border warehouse operators are often confronted with some hard nuts to crack,” said HAI Robotics. They include staffing shortages and turnover, even with above-average wages for warehouses near commercial hubs in industrialized countries.
The second challenge is the huge number of SKUs that online retailers must manage, ranging from consumer electronics to baby toys. This has raised concerns of storage density and picking efficiency, according to HAI Robotics.
To meet consumers' growing expectations of rapid parcel delivery, the addition of mobile robots to help handle complex fulfillment tasks has become more urgent for warehouse operators. In addition, cross-border warehouse and distribution center operators require systems that can be swiftly and easily deployed, said the company.
HAIPICK helps WINIT in the U.K.
WINIT is a Shanghai-based provider of warehouse and distribution services for cross-border e-commerce in Australia, the U.S., and several European countries. The company had found no shortcuts to address the e-commerce surge during the pandemic. However, it did find that robotics could help it meet the needs of high storage density, goods-handling accuracy, operation efficiency, and flexibility, said HAI Robotics.
The project involved 120,000 storage locations with a shelving height of 4.3 m (14.1 ft.) in a 10,000 sq. m (107,639 sq. ft.) warehouse in Tamworth, U.K. By deploying 100 HAIPICK A42 robots and 16 On-conveyor Picking Workstations in the warehouse, goods-handling efficiency improved over manual work, with a daily handling volume of up to 50,000 pieces.
With the HAIPICK A42 robot that allows picking and sorting with eight loads in one movement, one worker can handle 450 pieces of goods per hour, which is three to four times faster than manual work, said the companies.
The system has also improved storage density by 130%, with spaces from 0.25 m (9.8 in.) to 6.5 m (21.3 ft.) high being fully utilized. HAI Robotics said its HAIPICK system, which supports intelligent tote identification and label reading, boasts 99.99% picking and sorting accuracy.
HAI Robotics worked on a customized plan with WINIT to improve performance, including elevated storage density and innovative workflows to facilitate necessary manual work, said Kane Luo, vice president of sales at HAI Robotics.
“We were primarily obliged to provide ACR system,” he said. “However, we've taken into consideration the whole process, from inbounds to packaging of outbound goods. The workstations were also ergonomically redesigned according to overseas standards.”
With the project going live, WINIT saw increases in warehouse throughput, allowing it to accommodate order-fulfillment requests from merchants around the world, said HAI Robotics.