The fulfillment economy has exploded during the pandemic, as has competition among automation technology providers, whose robotic technology is becoming critical during widespread labor shortages and ballooning demand.
That's the good news. The bad news, if you're a robotics firm with a great product and opportunity as far as the horizon is that scaling hardware distribution, whether via direct sales or as-a-service, is extremely complex, typically takes massive capital outlays, and is fraught with the perils of miscalculation. What's an emerging robotics firm to do?
One model that's becoming increasingly important for savvy businesses is to partner with an existing brand with a broad reach and pre-existing infrastructure. Examples include Kinova teaming up with Northrop Grumman to help distribute a small manipulator to existing customers and Robotiq partnering with Universal Robots on off-the-shelf robotic tooling.
In the latest example, 6 River Systems, LLC, a leading fulfillment solutions provider, just announced a new initiative to support warehouse efficiencies by teaming up with Ricoh USA. Under the arrangement, RICOH's service solutions business unit will augment 6 River Systems' existing service team for its collaborative robots – called "Chucks," solving for a crucial weakness in any young enterprise technology company's bid to scale: giving customers an ample support network.
"The demand for our automated retail solution is significant, especially with retailers continually looking for ways to get their products into consumers' hands faster via seamless experiences," says Eran Frenkel, Vice President of Technical Operations, 6 River Systems. "By partnering with Ricoh, we're able to focus on making our solutions more widely available, which ultimately helps our customers quickly and efficiently meet their fulfillment goals."
Like other fulfillment automation providers, 6RS is on a bit of a tear during the pandemic. The company has provided solutions for major fulfillers and brands like Crocs, which implemented 6RS' wall-to-wall fulfillment solution, including its collaborative mobile robot Chuck. As I wrote last year, Crocs has seen a 182% pick rate improvement with the 6RS system, illustrating a key reason fulfillers are turning to automation in such numbers. This increase in throughput was especially critical during the holiday peak season.
In general, robots have become essential to scaling, and the solutions can now be brought online with unprecedented speed and minimal downtime. Not surprisingly as according to Statista, the global warehouse automation market is predicted to increase from $15 billion in 2019 to $30 billion by 2026.
But the warehouse automation sector, while maturing rapidly in the Amazon Prime era, is still nascent, with many of the players less than a decade old. That's a short time to build a massive global or even national distribution and support infrastructure. Collaborating seems like a key to efficiently do just that.
"Our collaboration with 6 River Systems is a prime example of how our stable and trusted infrastructure – coupled with a team of more than 10,000 service delivery professionals supporting and maintaining more than one million devices across the U.S. – helps solve our customers' problems," says Jim Kirby, Vice President, Service Advantage, Ricoh USA, Inc. "Together, we are addressing some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in retail today including supply chain operational efficiency such as retail and warehouse automation. By expertly assisting with service and support for companies like 6 River Systems, we are helping them maintain focus on what matters most – innovation that solves supply chain hurdles and moves business forward."
It's a great example of how smart robotics firms are taking advantage of the growth opportunities of 2022 and beyond through effective collaborations designed to scale at speed.