Despite travel restrictions, the demand for supply chain efficiency around the world has continued to grow. Mobile robot maker Locus Robotics yesterday announced a strategic partnership with Balloon One Ltd., which sells software and systems for distribution, manufacturing, and e-commerce customers. The companies plan to jointly offer their products in the U.K.
“As e-commerce continues to explode across all channels, warehouse fulfillment has become a critical part of the economy,” stated Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics. “Our partnership will deliver cutting-edge robotics technology to Balloon One customers and drive significant operational efficiency and productivity gains and a faster time to value.”
Wilmington, Mass.-based Locus Robotics said its autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can collaborate with human workers to increase productivity and save 30% or more in operating expenses. The company claimed that its systems can enable brands, retailers, and third-party logistics (3PL) operators to meet increasing consumer demand for e-commerce, retail, and omnichannel order fulfillment.
Last month, Locus closed $40 million in Series D funding and announced expansions in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.
West London, U.K.-based Balloon One provides warehouse management systems (WMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), transport management systems (TMS), and automation to improve interoperability throughout supply chain processes. The company is also a partner with WMS provider HighJump, now part of Körber AG.
Balloon One to offer Locus AMRs alongside WMS
Balloon One will offer Locus Robotics’ multi-robot solution for warehouse fulfillment alongside the Körber/HighJump WMS. This will enable customers to improve efficiency without the need for expensive or time-consuming infrastructure changes, according to the companies.
“We already had several customers in Europe and the U.K. and were in discussions with Balloon One before the pandemic,” said Karen Leavitt, chief marketing officer at Locus Robotics. “A year ago, we presented the Locus solution to a room full of Balloon One customers, and they were very engaged. Körber is also very selective about its partners and sees the adaptability and value we bring to a variety of customers.”
“The Locus system can be deployed in as little as four weeks and provides two to three times picker productivity gains,” said Craig Powell, managing director of Balloon One. “Based on our internal assessment, we believe this technology will become an essential part of our warehouse operations and will provide our customers with a unique and significant advantage in today’s increasingly demanding e-commerce landscape.”
“Balloon One’s commitment to deliver solutions that will work and provide value to its customers aligned with our hardened value proposition — we’ve got to deliver returns on investment,” Leavitt told Collaborative Robotics Trends. “With our partnerships with global software providers like Balloon One and Körber, we can get advice and hands-on services.”
Balloon One plans to offer live, in-person demonstrations of Locus’ integrated systems to prospective customers at a new suite in West London.
“It’s a permanent setup, like the DHL Innovation Center in Chicago; one with Blue Yonder in Scottsdale, Ariz.; or Bonn, [Germany],” said Leavitt. “There’s still a big difference between seeing something online and putting somebody in front of a LocusBot.”
Pandemic poses opportunities
The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly transformed the retail industry, making online and omnichannel purchasing the “new normal” across the globe.
“We have some customers that are doing Black Friday business every single day and have been doing so for months,” said Leavitt. “Nowhere is that more true than in the U.K. Volumes really spiked there in late February, before the U.S., as business moved upstream from brick-and-mortar to warehouses.”
Locus added that its robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model will allow Balloon One customers to address labor challenges at a low startup cost.
“We had a customer in the southern U.K. that already had robots on its docks to ship back to us,” Leavitt recalled. “When a retail pharmacy customer experienced the surge, they literally put their extra robots in a truck or lorry and drove them two hours to the other customer’s warehouse. Everybody pitched in.”
“We’ve had no significant delays with our own supply chain, and we three months of component supplies on hand,” she said. “We had immediately barred all non-manufacturing employees from our facility and went into a remote working environment. We’ll be extending work-from-home recommendations. It’s about reducing uncertainty for everyone and getting into the right mental zone.”
“We can do about 95% of deployments completely remotely. Flexibility is paramount right now,” said Leavitt. “We’re offering customers not only greater productivity, but also the ability to turn on a dime as the world moves quickly.”
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