Körber AG this week announced that it has unified 12 of its supply chain brands for a product-based approach. The Hamburg, Germany-based company said its new supply chain business area, formerly known as Körber Logistics Systems, will offer a range of capabilities through industrial automation, voice, software, materials handling equipment, and systems integration.
Körber Business Area Supply Chain consists of Aberle, Aberle Software, Cirrus Logistics, Cohesio Group, Consoveyo, DMLogic, HighJump, Inconso, Otimis, Langhammer, Riantics, and Voiteq. The company is also consolidating its digital, pharmaceutical, and tissue business areas.
“Over the last few years, we have strategically expanded our supply chain technologies and expertise — empowering customers to deliver upon ever-increasing requirements for speed, convenience, and choice,” stated Dirk Hejnal, CEO of Körber Supply Chain. “Tying it all together under a single brand was the logical next step in strengthening our position.”
Körber grows strategically
“Körber’s supply chain business has grown as a function of strategic acquisitions,” said John Santagate, vice president of robotics at HighJump, which became part of Körber Logistics. “These companies provide end-to-end support, including everything from WMSes [warehouse management systems] and WCS [warehouse control system] to direct-to-store delivery, layer picking, design, and pallets. We’ll continue to have several products, including HighJump’s Warehouse Advantage and Warehouse Edge.”
“Inconso makes the leading WMS in Europe, and Cohesio is the leading Geek+ integrator in Australia and New Zealand,” he said. “No one vendor can cover the whole stack and scale, and what we’re doing is unique in this space.”
“With a productized approach to autonomous mobile robots [AMRs], we’ll have solutions to touch every aspect of warehouse management,” Santagate told Collaborative Robotics Trends. “Körber’s portfolio includes picking and AS/RS [automated storage and retrieval systems], with AMRs its youngest competence.”
Santagate is now commercial lead for the Americas and global lead for AMRs. “Many warehouse operators don’t yet know the difference between AMRs and AGVs [automated guided vehicles],” he noted. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains are looking for ways to adapt.”
“For the supply chain industry, the unified Körber brand represents both the current operational structure of the organization and its future direction,” said Clint Reiser, director of supply chain research at ARC Advisory Group. “Beyond a portfolio company, Körber’s range of technologies and capabilities in supply chain represent a suite of solutions and professional services that address a broad spectrum of client supply-chain technology needs.”
Supporting clients with AMR portfolio
While many integrators are can tailor a robotics deployment to a customer’s needs, Körber’s experience and partnerships give it a more holistic, vendor-neutral view than most logistics suppliers, said Santagate.
“We’re in a position to help customers find the best AMRs to fit their situation,” he said. “Some robotics vendors claim they can do everything, but they are facing worse labor constraints than their customers. There is not enough robotics-specific talent in this nascent market, let alone robotics expertise with warehouse knowledge. The big automation providers focus on big deals, and AMRs become a side hustle.”
“Körber has 10,000 employees worldwide, and we’re re-skilling and up-skilling our personnel to augment the staffs of our partners,” Santagate added. “We evaluated all the AMR suppliers out there, and we have worldwide partnerships with Locus and Fetch, a regional partnership with Geek+, and specific projects with Magazino and Robotize. We’re continuing to look for vendors with unique capabilities, such as high-capacity tugging or automated fork trucks.”
Körber works to help supply chains scale up automation
“We’re not selling AMR integration in a bubble but as a function of our supply chain portfolio. We’re working with big customers to design multi-robot, pre-integrated configuration modules,” said Santagate. “We’re doing software development to cover all workflows and are building on Inconso’s already robust stack.”
“AMRs are just a piece of the puzzle, along with labor, controls, and traditional conveyance,” he added. “Körber can guide customers to the best fit rather than force an ‘any fit’ solution. With our family of brands and network of providers, we can connect all the threads for customers.”
Despite some overlap among AMR providers, Körber has chosen partners with its customer requirements in mind, said Santagate. He cited Verst Logistics, which uses AMRs from Locus Robotics, as an example.
“They’ve had a two-and-a-half times productivity increase and a 14x uptick in peak throughput at a customer of theirs,” Santagate said. “Verst reduced labor by 25% and time to train associates by 75%.”
“Hardware and software offerings depend on each vendor’s strategy and environment,” he added. “Locus requires tight integration with a WMS and fleet optimization, while Fetch‘s has a low-touch strategy with its cloud platform and integration in parallel. The platform of Geek+ is continually added to and customized. All three are working on ways to make deployments and integration easier.”
Mixed environments to come
Although heterogeneous environments are not yet common, supply chains still need an end-to-end approach.
“The big 3PLs [third-party logistics providers] all say they have relationships with different vendors, but not in the same workflows,” Santagate said. “They have dedicated sites for specific customers and use cases. I have yet to see an autonomous for truck put a pallet on a mobile robot from another vendor and then bring items to a picking robot or a human. Organizations will need flexibility for when an AMR takes a pallet from a conveyor to wrapping or depalletization.”
“More likely, you’ll soon see two robots at different ends of a process, like case-level replenishment or on the loading dock, before we see two [different] robots working together autonomously,” he said. “Körber is well-positioned to help with the handoff when it comes.”
“Our new branding is a natural move to bring our unique vision and message to market,” said Rene Hermes, chief marketing officer at Körber Supply Chain. “Our new tagline, ‘Conquer supply chain complexity’ embodies the ‘one-of-a-kind’ offering we have for the industry. Based on our research, more than 90% of supply chain professionals aren’t ready to handle today’s complexities. We turn what were once roadblocks into success.”