Leasing Is Providing Way For Smaller Warehouses to Enter the Robot Age

Ever since Amazon acquired Kiva, a robot manufacturing company based in North

An inVia robot interacting with a human. (Courtesy: iVia Robotics, Inc.)

An inVia robot interacting with a human.
(Courtesy: iVia Robotics, Inc.)

Reading, Massachusetts for $775 million in 2012, more and more warehouses have been turning to robots to perform the task of picking products for shipping.

Automating is still a relatively expensive undertaking that smaller warehouses can’t afford. However, robot manufacturers are starting to offer their robots through leasing programs making them a whole lot more affordable.

One such robot manufacturing company that is doing this is inVia Robotics Inc., a start-up business based in Los Angeles, California. The company unveiled a pair of mobile order-picking robots in August 2016 and offers them through a leasing program rather than requiring that a warehouse buy them outright.

A leasing program makes the acquisition of robot pickers much more affordable. Moreover, a leasing program permits warehouses to adjust the size of their robot fleet. They can scale up during peak demand periods and scale down during the off-season.

The robots inVia offers are engineered to pick items from the rack and then deliver them to a packing station. The company calls its system “goods to box.” It claims that the system can operate in any warehouse without the need to reconfigure stock or floor plans.

The leasing program inVia offers requires warehouses that use the system to pay a fee of about 10 cents per pick. The program includes a fleet of small robots and a Robotics Management System software application to command them. This permits the warehouse to save about 15 cents per pick, which is the cost of purchasing traditional warehouse automation systems like AS/RS, pick to light, or complex conveyors.

The CEO of inVia, Lior Elazary, points out that his company maintains the fleet of robots. “We don’t expect our customers to be robotics experts and maintain a fleet of robots,” he said. “That’s not their area of expertise. Let us worry about moving items from point A to point B and we can enable our customers to be competitive with Amazon without buying an expensive automation system.”

InVia’s package includes two types of robots –- one called a “Grabit,” which features small suction cups that allow it to pick up a 30 pound item from racks as high as eight feet tall, and a “Transit” robot that gather the orders that Grabit picks and carries them to the nearest conveyor belt or packing station.

InVia is already involved in several pilot projects with large retail stores including LD Products, Inc., a printer-cartridge and office supply retailer that sells its goods online and has a warehouse in Mountainville, Pennsylvania.

Don’t be surprised to see robot makers who have been in business for a long time as well as new start-ups to adopt a similar program resulting in a further boom in the transition of warehouses from using forklift drivers and human pickers to using a fleet of affordable robots.

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