SoftBank Robotics and Berkshire Grey Build Automated E-Commerce Fulfillment Center in Japan

Companies say robotic pack-and-pick technology will fully automate outbound fulfillment services.

Berkshire Grey

Berkshire Grey is working with SoftBank Robotics to automate a 3PL facility in Japan.

SoftBank Robotics Corp. and its SB Logistics Corp. subsidiary, along with Berkshire Grey Inc., announced yesterday that they have partnered to offer “the most technically advanced” third-party logistics service for e-commerce fulfillment. SB Logistics said its 3PL offering includes Berkshire Grey’s Intelligent Enterprise Robotics systems, including robots using artificial intelligence to autonomously pick, place, and pack customer orders for the demanding Japanese market.

SoftBank Robotics is a unit of Japan-based SoftBank Group Corp. It has produced more than 35,000 robots, including the Pepper and NAO humanoid service robots and the Whiz cleaning robot, which are used in more than 70 countries. SB Logistics provides pay-per-use, third-party logistics (3PL) services, starting with e-commerce business-to-consumer (B2C) fulfillment and expanding to offline merges online (business-to-business) and direct-to-consumer (D2C) fulfillment. 

Bedford, Mass.-based Berkshire Grey combines AI and robotics to support fulfillment, supply chain, and logistics operations. Its customers include Global 100 retailers and 3PLs. In February, the company announced its intention to merge with a special purpose acquisition company and to be publicly listed.

SB Logistics to fully automate DC

SB Logistics owns Ichikawa Distribution Center, a 220,000-sq.-m (721,785-sq.-ft.) warehouse in Ichikawa City, Chiba prefecture. It can provide same- day and next-day delivery to the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. The company runs its daily operations with materials handling equipment and systems designed and developed by SoftBank Robotics.

Berkshire Grey said its Robotic Pick and Pack (RPP) systems will enable SB Logistics to process customer orders by handling tens of thousands of SKUs (stock-keeping units). They range from high-end cellphones and electronics to packaged foods, toys, health and beauty items, and other general merchandise.

“Berkshire Grey’s RPP systems are capable of handling significantly higher volumes of SKUs than other robotic providers can handle, while offering levels of careful handling and precise placement that is unmatched in the industry,” stated Fumihide Tomizawa, president and CEO of SoftBank Robotics and SB Logistics. “We challenged Berkshire Grey to increase their capabilities even further to best meet the very high expectations of customers in our target markets.”

“Berkshire Grey met that challenge and developed advanced functionality to enable the most innovative solutions in warehouse robotics,” he added. “With Berkshire Grey’s RPP systems, we will be able to directly improve the productivity, quality and reliability of our fulfillment services.”

Robots can help relive pressure on 3PLs

The majority of logistics providers face several challenges, including hiring qualified workers, meeting customer demands for lower costs and faster response times, and keeping pace with rising consumer expectations. In addition, 3PLs face throughput fluctuations, capital investment concerns, and customer-specific service-level agreements.

From an operations standpoint, damage costs are often absorbed by 3PLs, noted SoftBank. Shipping less-than-perfect items results in costly returns and damaged reputations for the 3PLs and their customers. Berkshire Grey said its systems can help overcome these challenges.

“On behalf of their customers, SB Logistics is creating a leading-edge e-commerce fulfillment facility that will become a fully automated 3PL outbound operation,” said Jessica Moran, senior vice president and general manager of 3PL and parcel businesses at Berkshire Grey. “This operation will be the model for automated fulfillment centers now and for future generations.”

“SoftBank Robotics and SB Logistics have worked closely with the Berkshire Grey team to create a first-in-world, fully automated 3PL fulfillment service for e-commerce,” said Tomizawa. “The team was able to provide cutting-edge robotics technology to help us carefully and efficiently robotically piece-pick a large variety of SKUs.”

“Berkshire Grey’s ability to seamlessly work with us remotely—due to the limitations caused by the pandemic—was truly profound and shows both teams’ strong passion for driving results,” he said. “Together, we were able to transform an idea into providing a real business value for the 3PL industry in Japan.”

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Berkshire Grey

Berkshire Grey is working with SoftBank Robotics to automate a 3PL facility in Japan.

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