With 12 years of experience working in warehousing, Christopher Calderhead never expected that one day he would work with robots.
Christopher has been working in the overseas warehouse of WINIT for about a year now. As an outbound team leader, he makes sure the system runs smoothly, and orders are fulfilled daily. "Working in a warehouse is tough, especially manual handling. People usually get sick because of bad backs. There's a lot more locations you have to go to. Therefore there's more walking you have to do. At the end of the day, you just want to go home and relax for the rest of the night because you've been worn out from work manually. You don't even have much energy to spend time with your kids," Christopher said.
Things changed in late 2021 when WINIT, a Chinese cross-border warehouse operator, began to partner with HAI ROBOTICS, provider of Autonomous Case-handling Robotic systems for warehouse logistics.
About 100 robots were deployed in WINIT’s warehouse near Birmingham, in central UK. These computer-controlled robots walk smoothly in the 30,000-plus-square-meter warehouse to help the workers pick and sort goods.
As a result, the goods-handling efficiency for the WINIT warehouse improved three to four times more than manual work with a daily handling volume of up to 50,000 pieces.
“With the robotic system we make less mistakes. Because there are clear instructions for each action and when we pick wrong goods the system blocks it. And an easy-to-handle process is in place when something unusual happens. The system saves a lot of manual efforts,” he said.
The warehouse owner WINIT is a Shanghai-based provider of overall solutions for cross-border e-commerce and runs overseas warehousing and distribution services in Australia, the United States, and several European countries.
Total size of its warehouses abroad is about 399,400 sqm, or the size of 56 football pitches. In the UK alone, it runs 3 warehouses, with the total size reaching 50,000 sqm, or 7 football pitches.
But the company was confronted with even harder challenges as the demand for global warehousing services surged dramatically with the growth of cross-border e-commerce businesses in the past two years.
Custom statistics indicate that in 2021, Chinese cross-border trade volume amounted to RMB1.98 trillion, up 15% compared to the year before. The volume is expected to reach RMB2.5 trillion by 2025, according to figures released last year by China.
One major challenge for WINIT is the huge number of SKUs owned by different merchants, which has raised concerns about warehouse storage density and picking efficiency. To address this, the company went to HAI ROBOTICS to automate its order-fulfillment center operations.
HAI ROBOTICS, founded in 2016 and a trailblazer of ACR systems, customized a solution plan for WINIT in the project.
The warehouse automation project provides 120,000 storage locations with shelving height of 4.3 meters in a 10,000-sqm warehouse in Tamworth, Staffordshire. HAI ROBOTICS is deploying 100 HAIPICK A42 robots and 16 On-conveyor Picking Workstations in the warehouse. Realizing automated storage and retrieval functions, the average efficiency of it reaches 450 cases/h.
A flexible warehousing solution that can be swiftly deployed is critical for cross-border warehouse owners due to the soaring demand. WINIT, who found no shortcuts to address those concerns, found the HAI ROBOTICS’ solution a good match for the needs of high storage density, goods-handling accuracy, operation efficiency and flexibility.
Bob, who is in charge of the warehouse, said: “These smart robots have well met our expectations. So far, WINIT has helped more than 3,000 Chinese cross-border merchants export to the UK. We picked HAI ROBOTICS as our autonomous robot supplier among several other companies because it is one of the first developers. Its system has better stability than that of others, and its staff is professional. So we chose them.”
With the project with HAI ROBOTICS going live, WINIT saw its warehouse throughput spiked, comfortably accommodating the inrushing order-fulfillment requests for cross-border warehousing and logistics from merchants around the world, driven by the online shopping boom since the COVID-19 lockdown.
The solution has improved storage density by 60% and picking efficiency by 50% in the warehouse with over 100,000 SKUs. The current on-time delivery of WINIT is close to 100%.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall service and operation of WINIT has not been affected materially despite the difficulties and disruptions of global supply chain with the help of HAI ROBOTICS.
The implementation of HAIPICK system has enabled WINIT to maintain its on-time delivery while ensuring the completion of orders. So far, the company has helped more than 20,000 Chinese merchants to export their goods to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and European countries.
Alleviating labor woes
In addition, the solution offers the ability to realize significantly reduced labor costs.
Not only does it mitigate the need to hire new employees to perform the most labor-intensive, repetitive work in the warehouse business, it also improves the speed and accuracy with which work is carried out.
Bob said: “The labor shortage in the UK is particularly apparent now. Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have had dire consequences for the warehouse and logistics sector. Experienced employees are leaving and it’s hard to fill in new ones. As a result, our labor cost, in response, surged too. ”
This shortage prompted delivery issues for customers, loss of income for employers and ultimately irreversible effects on those working in warehouses.
Implementing the robotic solution also allows warehouse employees to focus on more important, strategic tasks as well as retrain and upskill.
Becky, a warehouse staff member, said that with help of the robots, she could stay in the workstation and just wait for them to pick and carry the goods back and forth. She never walks thousands of steps indoors and is free of the pain in her waist.
“Getting the goods now is like getting something at my fingertips. They make my work much easier. Now I don’t need to move around and bend my waist. Everything is easy. When I got home after work, I still felt my energy and could eventually spend some valuable time with my children. My family is so happy about it!”
It’s predicted that, by 2024, the impact of growing e-commerce sales in the UK could require an additional 92 million sq ft of warehouse space, according to an analysis by Logistics Business, an industry title.
Businesses need also address speed and accuracy, with the average consumer expecting rapid deliveries of products that are both made to order and easily returned, the analysis goes.
"Automation has become a key part of boosting warehouse operations. This can enhance efficiency, speed, accuracy, and safety. As we look to the future, robots are expected to take centre stage. "
Automation is already a significant market, representing over $10bn in annual global spending. It’s estimated that there’ll be around 50,000 robotic warehouses by 2025 with over 4 million robot installations, the analysis adds.