U.S. manufacturers and warehouse operators are dealing with many challenges, including recession concerns. Hai Robotics U.S.A. Inc. said it is applying market research and lessons learned from the last recession to help facilities apply automation to their advantage during times of economic uncertainty.
“In a slow market, many companies typically increase cash balances to fund operations,” said the company in a release this week. “As a result, we often see reduced budgets and delays in buying large capital expenses, but the need for automation does not slow down.”
“Companies still face staffing concerns, operating costs still need to be reduced, inventory management and loss prevention need improvements, and business security is always front of mind,” noted Hai Robotics.
The Fremont, Calif.-based company said it “has developed strategic programs that flip exceptions of business development in a recession on its head.” Hai Robotics US recently won the MHI Innovation Award for “Best Innovation of an Existing Product.”
Pandemic poses competitive lessons
The COVID-19 pandemic provided many lessons on how to manage facility development and how to reduce the risk of entry during periods of economic uncertainty, said Hai Robotics. Back in 2020 to 2021, many businesses held off purchasing robots and automation, it recalled.
Then, when those businesses returned to their advancement plans after the initial COVID recession, material and equipment backlogs were at an all-time high, said the company. Lead times exceeded 12 months for certain systems.
Businesses that were desperate to speed up plans that were already delayed by spending pauses then faced further delays because many other companies were also trying to bring in robots, Hai Robotics noted.
In comparison, the facilities that had already started to implement automation before or through the pandemic were, in some cases, over a year ahead of their competition in operational advancement, asserted the company. The companies that had automation or the foundations of a large-scale deployment in place were better situated to manage labor shortages and surge of consumer demand that followed, said Hai Robotics.
Knowing that facilities will someday again need to navigate economic uncertainty, Hai Robotics said it evaluated their needs and developed automation options to turn recessions into periods of strategic growth through its pilot programs.
Hai Robotics offers ASRS, pilots
Hai Robotics claimed that its automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) is “material-agnostic,” meaning it works with nearly any industry-standard racking and containers. As a result, the ASRS has a lower price point than many competitors and promises more flexibility than other systems, it said.
The ASRS allows for simplified expansion and maintenance, said Hai Robotics. Many companies can thus install a larger system with lower cost and lower risk in times of economic uncertainty, the company added.
Hai Robotics is offering pilot systems consisting of one or two robots, racking and totes, and one workstation. It is also offering software including a host interface, plus implementation, staff training, and a co-developed roadmap for future expansion. The total price point is less than $250,000 (U.S.), said Hai Robotics.
These systems allow companies to gain immediate benefits from automation while laying the foundation necessary for smart facility updates with low risk and low cost, the company said. Facilities are able to make adjustments necessary for all automated advancements with a smaller system, laying the foundation for strategic growth:
- Familiarize the facility and workers with the technology, hardware, and equipment
- Set up the software interfaces and base code
- Establish operational workflows and trainings
Currently, with a pilot program, systems can be implemented in six months or less, allowing for immediate operational security, said Hai Robotics. Each system is designed with an understanding of the anticipated growth for that business, making expansions simpler at a lower price point at each stage of growth, it claimed.
This approach can break up the costs of a full-scale system, so companies only pay for what is needed as they need it, Hai Robotics said.
“We're excited to help our customers begin their automation journey in a low-risk environment,” stated Brian Reinhart, vice president of sales, marketing, and solutions at Hai Robotics. “We've been touting the technology's flexibility a lot recently, and this is another avenue to prove that value to the market.”
“We're committed to maintaining and supporting a low-cost point of entry and speed to market, two critical elements for those just beginning their adoption of automation,” he said about the pilots.
Customers see benefits
Customers said they are already seeing the benefits of Hai Robotics' scalable technology and have recognized the value of its simplicity and ability to expand.
“We have a big space, but we don’t want to buy too much upfront,” said Adam Womble, co-founder of Avenue Shops. “The flexible nature of Hai’s system and the ease to add more rows of racking and robots made it the better system for us.”
Avenue Shops is a full-service apparel sourcing, storage, and distribution facility that supports thousands of women’s fashion boutiques around North America. It purchased a pilot system at the end of 2022 that reduced its storage footprint to 30% the original space, increased storage height by 4x, and improves operator order fulfillment speed by three to four times.
As Avenue Shops' business continues to grow, the system is designed to expand, said Hai Robotics.
Companies that take the time when markets are slower to implement pilot systems can lay a foundation for larger-scale automation, Hai Robotics noted. They can find themselves months or even a more than year ahead of businesses that chose to hold off until markets rebound, it said.