What Resilience Means to Your Digital Supply Chain
The pandemic sounded an alarm to accelerate digitalization plans and enable …
Industry watchers, supply chain leaders, and market analysts agree: business leaders can no longer consider digital supply chains a choice or even a competitive differentiator to grow their businesses. In fact, not investing in and implementing the tools and technologies needed to support a transparent, dynamic digital supply chain is a significant risk to business survival.
As discussed earlier this week, businesses responding and reacting to COVID-19 learned in 2020 about resilience and how that differs from survival. With resilience, there is proactive response and potential business growth. Many businesses can say they survived the pandemic thanks to reacting quickly and adjusting their supply chains in response to the disruption. Not as many can report that they were well-equipped to not only respond and withstand the impact COVID-19 had on their supply chains, but they were also able to report business growth and differentiated products and services thanks to the work they already invested in a digital supply chain.
The latter outcome is part of a three-pronged cycle many in the industry are witnessing, according to MHI CEO John Paxton. During a presentation at ProMatDX, Paxton detailed the respond, recover, and thrive cycle as a result of COVID-19 that MHI tracks.
“Companies that embrace innovation and digital technologies can respond more quickly and effectively to immediate challenges posed by disruption. They recover faster than their peers,” Paxton said. “These companies are able to create a sustainable competitive advantage that enables them to thrive in the post-pandemic world.”
MHI, the leading trade association for the material handling, logistics, and supply chain industry, this week used its virtual event ProMatDX as a platform to launch its 2021 MHI Annual Industry Report — Innovation Driven Resilience: How technology and innovation help supply chains thrive in unprecedented times. The report features responses from some 1,000 manufacturing and supply chain leaders, and nearly 50% of respondents intend to increase their investment in innovative and digital technologies in response to COVID-19. Forty-five percent of those surveyed intend to spend more than $1 million over the next two years, and 12% expect to spend more than $10 million, according to the MHI report.
ProMatDX 2021, which early estimates show drew some 14,000 attendees to this digital event, showcased across vendors’ virtual booths and education sessions many of the innovative technologies businesses will need to incorporate into their operations and supply chains in the coming months and years. Among the technologies listed as priorities for this stage of post-pandemic recovery were robotics and automation, which within five years 75% of respondents expect to leverage.
Close to 40% are already tapping into robotics and automation technology today, and much of the near-future planning is based on a few key challenges companies are facing across their supply chains today. Many across these industries feel the labor availability pain firsthand and the report reflects that: more than half (52%) of those polled are challenged by hiring and retaining qualified workers.
“The results show that data and technology are essential components needed to power supply chains of the future, but what it also makes clear is the people it takes to run these next-generation supply chains and the skillsets that connect them to the digital supply chains,” said Thomas Boykin, Supply Chain Specialist Leader at Deloitte, who partnered with MHI for this report. “Companies that embrace innovation and digital technologies can respond more quickly and effectively to the immediate challenges posed by disruption, and create sustainable competitive advantage that enables them to thrive in the post pandemic world.
It’s also no surprise to most that businesses are having to significantly adjust their supply chain and eCommerce fulfillment approaches due to customer demands on response times (47%), customer demands for lower costs (47%), and rising customer service expectations (43%).
The MHI report shows what industry leaders already know and anticipate will continue to challenge their businesses without digitalization: consumer expectations of pricing, delivery times, and product availability. A large part of those increased expectations go hand-in-hand with the major boom in eCommerce shopping and buying. For instance, a supply chain industry report said that eCommerce sales increased by between 55% to 76% in 2020.
“From where I site, [eCommerce] is here to stay, and from my project list, it is still going up. It is definitely here to stay,” said Annette Danek-Akey, Executive Vice President of Supply Chain at Penguin Random House, during the ProMatDX panel discussion. “At first, we just had to respond to things that came up; the online demand was really interesting. We just put one foot in front of the other during the response phase. Then we moved into recovery, scrambling to put our data together from different reports and tell the boss what we needed in terms of digital technology. We were forced into it quickly, but we recovered and we are thriving now.
Danek-Akey recounted during the virtual panel specific experiences in which she was able to better communicate to suppliers and customers thanks in part to a more transparent supply chain. She reported that in some cases she was able to resolve problems before they actually happened because the shared data gave her greater visibility into events that could impact her business.
And that’s the whole point, according to Randy V. Bradley, Associate Professor of Information Systems and Supply Chain Management, Haslam College of Business, The University of Tennessee. Being able to predict demand and respond before customers are impacted — being equipped with the right tools and technologies — is how businesses need to evolve their supply chains.
“We have always said that a supply chain is only going to be as agile, resilient, and responsive as the infrastructure that undergirds it,” he said. Businesses need to be able to predict when demand patterns might change and adjust accordingly and exceed expectations “without a Herculean efforts.”
“We are not just doing digital; we are being digital. It is part of our corporate DNA to truly transform and engage our customer base,” Bradley concluded.
At Berkshire Grey, we have a holistic approach to the next-gen improvements that can be made in supply chain operations. Our intelligent robotic solutions have been developed to change the way our customers do business, not just now but in the future.
Our automation technology using robotic systems is here now to address operations that rely too heavily on manual processes and inefficient workflows. All sorts of businesses must respond to these evolving online shopping habits by transforming their supply chains to manage high volumes of orders and exceed customer expectations year-round.
Berkshire Grey’s hardware and software can help companies achieve the productivity gains needed to handle increased order volume across their supply chains and respond quickly to unexpected events. We deliver real solutions to identified problems and have decades of learned experience in the advanced robotics industry.
Digital transformation is a term that has long been bandied about across many industries and likely in all technology strategy discussions. Because of that, it is often considered an overused buzzword that has lost much of its original meaning. For many industries, true digital transformation has not yet been implemented across entire enterprise environments, and for even more businesses, the digitalization of supply chains is nascent at best.
Digital transformation is a front-office, customer-facing project for some businesses, and for others, the move to really transform back-office operations is just beginning. At ProMatDX this week, companies will be exploring how they can build resiliency into their supply chains and enable their businesses to withstand and grow despite any unforeseen events or demand spikes.
MHI, the nation’s largest material handling, logistics, and supply chain association, will share its soon-to-be-released 2021 MHI Annual Industry Report: Innovation Drives Resilience at the show during a keynote presentation. MHI CEO John Paxton revealed just a few key findings of the report leading up to the virtual show, explaining that COVID-19 provided the catalyst many needed to accelerate and implement digital transformation across their supply chains.
“It is now clear that the supply chain transparency and resilience provided by digital innovation is the difference-maker between companies that can respond, recover and thrive when disruption hits and those that cannot,” Paxton stated.
According to the report excerpt MHI’s Paxton shared in his CEO update: “83% of the manufacturing and supply chain professionals surveyed said that digital supply chains that are connected, intelligent, scalable, and nimble will be the norm by 2026 — 22% say they are the norm today. The report found that investment in these innovations has also risen significantly from last year with 44% planning to invest more than $1 million and 11% planning to invest over $10 million over the next two years.”
Resilience could become the new buzzword if it wasn’t so clear during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis that businesses need a new way to plan for the unexpected, disruptive events that threaten to derail success. The pandemic proved that some businesses had prepped their supply chains for whatever might come, and that others didn’t have the right tools, technologies, and processes in place to withstand the significant demand spikes couple with labor availability challenges.
In 2020, many businesses encountered unforeseen demand and struggled to ensure their supply chains could meet consumer expectations. For instance, a supply chain industry report said that eCommerce sales increased by between 55% to 76% in 2020, with some brick-and-mortar retailers deemed essential providers seeing their online sales grow by as much as 42%. On a practical level, that puts intense pressure on operations, especially when you add warehousing, fulfillment actions (picking, packing, sorting etc.) and inventory management into the mix. The uptake in online ordering sent retailers, grocers, eCommerce companies, and more scrambling to fulfill orders — without having full visibility or true transparency into their supply chain.
“I think of visibility as akin to being able to simply see something. But transparency literally means to see through something and how it connects to other things. Transparency is like the extra medical information you would get if you had access to an X-ray,” said Darren Prokop, professor of logistics at the College of Business and Public Policy, University of Alaska, Anchorage, in a MHI Solutions Magazine article.
Essentially, companies and their suppliers need to be digitally sharing data that both can analyze and act upon in a reasonable timeframe to avoid external events such as a pandemic from disrupting the supply chain. When partners have visibility into each other’s networks, then potential problems with fulfilling orders can be avoided. Businesses need to have alternatives in place to ensure the supply chain continues to operate as expected all the way down to the products customers shop for in store aisles.
Supply chain resilience goes beyond just digitalizing processes; it requires businesses to account for the unexpected within their own environments but also across public infrastructure. Supply chain visibility gives businesses a view of the potential problem, but not the data and tools needed to resolve the problem before it impacts customers. Transparency across partner networks enables businesses to reroute deliverables in their supply chain when disruption threatens to occur.
ProMatDX promises to provide access to some of the most innovative tools and technologies available today to improve upon current supply chain approaches. And according to a Modern Materials Handling assessment of this week’s ProMatDX attendees, representatives across distribution centers, warehouse, and manufacturing facilities are looking for more information on:
Berkshire Grey is showcasing its solutions at ProMatDX, and representatives look forward to discussing how our intelligent robotic automation solutions are part of a resilient supply chain.
This demonstration will cover the customer use case including payback for the solution, how the solution works, and feature video of the system in use at the retailer’s distribution center operating in production to save millions per year.
This demonstration will cover the use cases for the solution, outline the ROI generated by a global parcel company using the solution, and feature extensive video of the solution in operation handling 1,000s of parcels per hour.
This demonstration will feature extensive video of the solution in operation handling various ‘hard to handle’ products and outline the ROI current customers are experiencing with these stations.
This demonstration will feature extensive video of the Robotic Pick Cells operating with real products fulfilling real orders.
Please add these sessions to your ProMatDX calendar now, and schedule a meeting with one of our robotic automation experts to help your business build resilience across your supply chain.
For retailers, 3PLs, eCommerce, post and parcel, and grocery companies — really any business reliant on a supply chain to get goods to consumers — peak season can be a make-or-break business bellwether. If your distribution and fulfillment centers operate during peak, then you know there typically won’t be bigger fulfillment challenges to conquer than the next peak.
Of course, 2020 pushed many operators into sustained peak mode for most of the year when the pandemic disrupted supply chains, pushed consumers online for all sorts of products, and forced businesses to consider significantly accelerating efforts to digitalize supply chains and introduce more automation capabilities into distribution and fulfillment centers. Now as businesses devise strategies for the current eCommerce fulfillment realities — customers shopping online for everything from apparel to groceries to everyday items like toilet paper — they must also consider this uptake of online-first shopping when planning for peak 2021. The next peak is only going to be peakier…
For 2020, according to data from Insider Intelligence and eMarketer, “Total retail spending was up 6.5% to $1.064 trillion. Brick-and-mortar sales grew 2.2% to $878.26 billion, while eCommerce jumped 32.5% to $185.88 billion.” And Insider Intelligence and eMarketer recently forecast “that total U.S. holiday retail sales in 2021 will rise 2.7% to $1.093 trillion, while the season’s eCommerce sales will rise 11.3% to $206.88 billion — eCommerce will account for a record 18.9% of total holiday season retail sales.”
ProMatDX, this year a digital event that is free to register and attend sessions, would typically be an in-person conference for manufacturing and supply chain professionals to learn about the latest technological innovations that could solve real-world business problems. As a virtual event this year due to ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols, ProMatDX promises to provide a showcase of solutions just in time for retailers, eCommerce companies, and more businesses to plan and prepare for peak holiday season 2021.
Berkshire Grey this year is a premier sponsor of ProMatDX and will showcase several of our robotic automation solutions throughout the week. Robotic automation experts will be virtually available via meetings, sessions, chats, and more to help you understand how our AI-enabled robotic capabilities can help your business improve operations and speed order fulfillment. In production environments today, Berkshire Grey customers have been able to reduce operations expenses by up to 70% and bolster facility throughput by between 25% and 50%.
Please add these sessions to your ProMatDX calendar now, and schedule a meeting with one of our robotic automation experts to help your business get ahead of consumer demand and plan for peak 2021.
Handling millions of items per month in a production operation for a Fortune 100 retailer, Berkshire Grey’s Robotic Product Sortation (RPS) system automates break pack order selection by robotically picking and sorting items, inner packs, and less-than-case quantities into specified containers for shipment to stores, other places of business, and direct to customers. The solution also automates store allocation order processing by picking individual items from totes into outbound order containers without manual labor. The solution replaces manual break pack picking, decreases logistics complexity, and makes unloading and stocking at stores faster and more efficient. This demonstration will cover the customer use case including payback for the solution, how the solution works, and feature video of the system in use at the retailer’s distribution center operating in production to save millions per year.
The surge in the volume of small packages handled by carriers, retailers, and logistics companies has strained many supply chains. Rising customer demand for same or next-day delivery have contributed to rising costs as processing small parcel shipments requires more labor per unit than consolidated shipments. Berkshire Grey’s Robotic Product Sortation with Identification (RPSi) system is designed to intelligently automate the sortation process of small parcels and return items. Unlike traditional parcel automation, only Berkshire Grey’s RPSi can handle challenging parcels such as polybags, tubes, padded mailers, and envelopes – without operator intervention. This demonstration will cover the use cases for the solution, outline the ROI generated by a global parcel company using the solution, and feature extensive video of the solution in operation handling 1,000s of parcels per hour.
With online orders soaring to record highs, retailers, 3PLs, and all eCommerce providers need to unlock eCommerce fulfillment productivity and rapidly fulfill high volumes of individual consumer orders more efficiently and cost-effectively. Berkshire Grey’s Robotic Pick and Pack (RPP) stations are AI-driven robotic systems that leverage advanced machine learning to automate picking individual items and packing them directly into shipping packages, providing agility, labor reduction, and high-precision SKU handling capabilities to warehouse order fulfillment. Comprised of inbound and outbound tote transport with buffer, an engineered frame with integrated safety structure, industrial robots outfitted with our patented SpectrumGripper system, advanced computer vision, and AI-enabled software, RPP stations help customers accelerate throughput and offset labor challenges. This demonstration will feature extensive video of the solution in operation handling various ‘hard to handle’ products and outline the ROI current customers are experiencing with these stations.
These systems do much more than pick things up and put them down. They automate picking like no other robotic systems on the market. Berkshire Grey’s Robotic Pick Cells (RPC) are self-contained AI-enabled robotic systems that are uniquely designed to pick the largest assortment of eaches (individual items) from an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) goods-to-person environment. RPCs are comprised of a frame structure, robot arm, SpectrumGripper manipulation system, advanced sensing, and computer vision technology with integrated AI-based software. When combined with leading ASRS systems, RPCs help customers reduce labor costs while maximizing operational efficiency. This demonstration will feature extensive video of the Robotic Pick Cells operating with real products fulfilling real orders.
Retailers worked hard and fast this past year to respond to the quickly-evolving demands of consumers during the pandemic. And as signs of recovery start to emerge, many retail leaders recognize they must adapt and align their supply chain strategies and fulfillment operations to continue to meet elevated customer expectations.
It’s no secret online buying became the norm during the height of COVID-19, and it’s becoming clearer now that customers will not return fully to their in-store shopping habits. For instance, Digital Commerce 360 estimates that consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2020, up 44% year over year — representing the highest annual U.S. eCommerce growth in at least two decades and nearly triple the 15.1% jump in 2019. And according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), “the biggest takeaway from 2020 is the shift to eCommerce; consumers have embraced online shopping with vigor and retailers have responded with the speedy rollout of new technologies.”
As buying trends continue to emerge, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) recently shared its outlook on the retail industry and how retailers should rethink various facets of their businesses to better align with consumer expectations.
“While the fundamentals are largely unchanged, customers’ expectations are now exponentially higher and retailers are rising to the challenge,” said RILA President Brian Dodge. “Leading retailers are embracing the opportunity to win new customers by leveraging lessons learned from the past year and investing in strategies to serve customers well wherever and whenever they shop.”
Despite the inconveniences introduced into everyone’s lives in 2020, consumers in 2021 will not tolerate any hiccups in the purchase and delivery of goods and services online or otherwise.
Customers want their brands to provide access to the products they want in-store and online, and they anticipate timely delivery or other convenient options such as curbside pickup or buy online pickup in store (BOPIS). For instance, 40% of retailers now offer BOPIS to customers, compared to just one-quarter that did so last year, according to omnichannel platform NewStore. And more than half (55%) offer in-store returns of online purchases, the firm found.
RILA, with McKinsey & Company as a knowledge partner, conducted research on how retailers are approaching strategy and operations by surveying executives at more than 30 U.S. companies. The RILA study found that consumers expect a “seamless omnichannel experience: consumers will choose retailers based on ease and richness of end-to-end experience.”
For some retailers, it could mean establishing a micro-fulfillment center, a small distribution center located in available space at the back of the store or in a facility adjacent to the store location. MFCs are designed to support direct-to-consumer orders for a single store location. These right-sized fulfillment operations can be affixed to or collocated within existing stores. MFCs support a smaller geographical radius and are in closer proximity to consumers, making pickup options more attractive and reducing delivery time and costs.
With online shopping expected to persist, retailers will need to embrace an eCommerce fulfillment model across their distribution and fulfillment centers. According to RILA reports, eCommerce volumes grew as much in the first quarter of 2020 as they did in the previous 10 years.
Speedy delivery is now also an expected outcome for eCommerce shopping, the RILA research found. In fact, more than 90% of consumers see two to three days as a reasonable timeframe in which to expect their goods delivered. Another 30% expect to see their purchases arrive the same day. That means retailers must be able to deliver, literally, on the promise of a timely arrival of products purchased.
For many retailers, the accelerated delivery windows will require “significant investments to propel their supply chain fulfillment capabilities,” according to RILA.
These smaller delivery windows will require distribution centers to more efficiently process higher order volumes and increase throughput in their facilities. With labor availability challenges predominant across regions, such increases in volume will require significant productivity improvements.
“For us, some eCommerce priorities that were previously five years out are now more of a three-year horizon. We need to more quickly understand how to satisfy that consumer and accelerate our timelines accordingly,” said Todd Vasas, CEO, Dollar General, in the RILA Retail Speaks report.
With the accelerated shift to online shopping, retailers must seek transformational productivity gains, according to RILA. “Retail has achieved outsized productivity growth over the past 10 years. The next phase will involve deploying analytics and automation across P&L. Retailers will need to prioritize investments that are truly transformational,” the RILA report reads.
Automation technology using robotic systems is here now to address operations that rely too heavily on manual processes and inefficient workflows. Retailers must respond to these evolving online shopping habits by transforming their eCommerce fulfillment processes to manage high volumes of orders and speedy deliveries year-round.
Berkshire Grey’s holistic approach to hardware and software can help retailers achieve the productivity gains needed to handle increased order volume and help speed eCommerce orders to customers. Our state-of-the-art vision systems, advanced gripping and picking capabilities, dynamic planning, and machine learning are all designed to make the move toward robotic integration as painless as possible. We deliver real solutions to identified problems and have decades of learned experience in the advanced robotics industry.
The labour crisis in the supply chain has reached a critical point, with the effects of Brexit and COVID-19 both impacting employee availability in an industry that has been overstretched for some time. Many retail, eCommerce, and logistics organisations have already introduced aspects of automation to maximise productivity and efficiency. With recent advancements in the field of robotics, businesses are considering how intelligent robotic automation could be the way to futureproof their workforce.
It’s no secret that warehousing is one of the industries with the highest employee turnover rates. Short employment terms are often caused by perceptions of unappealing working conditions and a lack of job satisfaction. The average age of workers is high (an estimated 25% of the global supply chain are beyond retirement age) and the physically demanding nature of some of the jobs can take its toll. These are factors that have contributed to the supply chain’s workforce problems over several years, with many companies struggling to fill vacancies, not to mention the significant costs involving sick leave and repeatedly recruiting and training staff.
Many factory and warehousing jobs are staffed by European-born workers who will be affected by the planned points-based system to be introduced as a result of Brexit. A government policy document from February 2020 said one of its aims was to attract skilled workers and to end a reliance on low paid labour from Europe, but for the supply chain it creates a big gap: these workers constitute around 20% of the workforce.
Many warehouse employees from Europe and other countries have already returned to their home country because of concerns about COVID-19: about 1.3m foreign born workers left the UK during the pandemic. At the same time, businesses have been forced to implement social distancing in usually highly populated workplaces, introduce PPE, and establish additional hygiene measures. These measures, although necessary, are costly and detrimental to productivity.
Added to these challenges is the increased demand many businesses have experienced due to the rise in eCommerce through the pandemic. In “normal” times, a surge in orders would require employing additional workers, but this has been hard to fulfil in these times. If staff are not available, customer orders are not fulfilled efficiently, and the business has a profitability and customer satisfaction problem.
It’s easy to see how intelligent robotic automation can resolve these issues. Robots can take on the most repetitive tasks where jobs are hard to fill. They are reliable, scalable, space-saving and do not require PPE or shift schedules. They are ideal for fulfilling repetitive tasks that require heavy lifting, high-volume picking, and levels of accuracy.
Faced with increased demand and reduced labour availability, several of our customers have extended their robotic system operating hours to provide a reliable, non-stop workforce. This has produced real bottom-line benefits: one distribution centre has reported $1 million in savings per year, as well as significantly higher item-pick replenishment volumes.
This is, however, not about immediate wall-to-wall automation or replacing the entire workforce with robots. As the availability and inclination of workers to fill certain supply chain jobs declines, new roles are emerging such as operating and monitoring the robots. As automation becomes ubiquitous, workers will be redeployed in more skilled and varied tasks that bring greater satisfaction and, for the business, result in lower staff churn rates.
We are on the cusp of great change in the workplace and robotic integration is the next stage of its evolution. At Berkshire Grey, we take a holistic approach to automation: it’s about augmenting existing operations, alleviating the physical demands on human workers and enabling them to focus on the enhanced tasks created by digitisation. To futureproof the workforce and the organisation as a whole it is no longer a question of if companies might move to automation, but how quickly.
A version of this blog post appeared in the March 2021 digital edition of Factory & Handling Solutions.
Berkshire Grey’s innovative technology is changing industries, solving real-world problems, and making a difference, all of which positions the company as one of Fast Company’s robotics businesses to watch.
Fast Company this week featured Berkshire Grey on its list of 10 most innovative companies in robotics, citing how BG robotic automation solutions enable our customers across industries to pick, pack, and sort volumes of eCommerce orders faster than traditional approaches.
Berkshire Grey creates AI-enabled robotic systems to automate the picking, packing, and sorting of the widest range of item types in diverse settings at speeds with accuracy levels that bring real results to our customers. Prior to Berkshire Grey, automation in eCommerce, retail resupply, and logistics typically entailed conventional conveyor belts that rapidly moved goods around warehouses. While the movement of goods is useful, most operations require the ability to pick up and handle items to fulfill orders.
Our systems can:
Part of Berkshire Grey’s success can be tied to its origins, in which our founder sought a meaningful and impactful problem to solve with technology. Founder and CEO Tom Wagner, PhD, selected operations in fulfillment, retail resupply, and logistics due to their importance to our supply chain and the potential to first enable our customers to compete strongly in the face of disruption — but also ultimately to lower overall costs and raise the standard of living.
Company leaders also apply robotic automation technologies to solve meaningful problems for people and society. Launched last year, the Picking With Purpose™ program is our commitment to feed and nourish vulnerable populations by using our intelligent robotic pick and sort systems to reimagine the distribution of surplus food. Partnering with other socially responsible companies to source food, we can work with non-profits to speed delivery of essential items to hungry families. With additional support and donations from corporate partners, we hope to make the surplus-food distribution supply chain more efficient for many years to come. Working together will generate innovative learnings and partnership opportunities as we transform food distribution.
“We are committed to providing our employees a positive workspace to develop AI-enabled robotics and automation solutions,” says Wagner. “These solutions enable Berkshire Grey’s customers to meet ever-changing consumer demands and achieve business growth.”
To review the full list, read Fast Company’s The 10 most innovative companies in robotics. The Fast Company honor comes on the heels of Forbes’ release of its list of 2021 Best Startup Employers, which also featured Berkshire Grey.
Company culture, innovative work, and talented employees enable Berkshire Grey to successfully solve difficult challenges for enterprise customers.
Forbes recently unveiled its list of America’s Best Startup Employers 2021, with Berkshire Grey earning a spot on the list of the best up-and-coming companies. To make the list, companies are not only well-liked by their employees, but they also boast a great employer reputation, considerable employee satisfaction, and significant opportunity for growth.
Berkshire Grey has always been committed to delivering the most valuable, leading-edge robotics to the world’s best eCommerce, retail, and logistics companies. This recognition shows that BG leadership continues to be devoted to creating a company that cultivates strong talent to work collaboratively to solve the hardest challenges for customers.
“We are honored to receive this recognition from Forbes as we’re constantly working to change the world we live in for the better and our employees are our greatest asset,” says Tom Wagner, CEO of Berkshire Grey. “This award confirms our dedication to helping them thrive while building practical and scalable solutions to today’s biggest challenges.”
As a company that develops integrated artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic solutions for eCommerce, retail replenishment, and logistics companies, BG provides businesses with a holistic approach to automation of tasks that speed the flow of goods to consumers. Berkshire Grey’s robotic automation offerings bring together proprietary AI with differentiated hardware to create robotic picking systems and multiple types of robotic mobility systems, which are combined in an orchestrated fashion to drive operational efficiencies. With more than 300 patent filings, BG customers typically can achieve a return on their investment in as little as two to three years.
At Berkshire Grey, employees work as one team that embodies integrity, hard work, personal excellence, and respect for one another. Currently, Berkshire Grey is looking to grow its teams globally with more than 50 open positions across the company. This includes engineering, professional services, sales and marketing, corporate support, and supply chain functions.
The Forbes recognition further solidifies Berkshire Grey’s increasing momentum in a competitive market, and reinforces the company’s dedication to its employees. For instance, Berkshire Grey provides employees with competitive compensation, a stellar benefits package, a fully stocked fridge with catered lunches, and most importantly the opportunity to innovate and make a difference on a daily basis.
“We are committed to providing our employees a positive workspace to develop AI-enabled robotics and automation solutions,” says Wagner. “These solutions enable Berkshire Grey’s customers to meet ever-changing consumer demands and achieve business growth.”
The 2021 Forbes Best Startup Employer award was conducted by Forbes and Statista. Employers were selected based on an innovative methodology evaluating employer excellence in three ways: Employee Satisfaction, Employer Reputation, and Company Growth.
For more information about the award and to see the full list, visit Forbes.com.
Modern distribution centers today need mobile robots and the intelligent technology powering them as eCommerce demand continues to strain traditional fulfillment approaches.
Ever-increasing consumer expectations make consistent and successful order fulfillment a big, ongoing challenge for retailers, eCommerce companies, and logistics providers. And that’s because customers in 2021 expect the products they want to be always available on store shelves or via speedy delivery. Businesses today need to add mobile robotics to their order fulfillment strategy to more efficiently get products out of distribution centers and onto store shelves. Elevated consumer expectations aren’t anticipated to change, and they challenge the traditional approaches to fulfillment across warehouses.
Time-to-order windows continue to shrink, based on our experience with customers. It’s not uncommon to see KPIs that call for goods ordered via eCommerce to be picked, packaged, and out the door within two to four hours of customers’ clicks on the website. This is where mobile technologies excel.
Mobile robots are ideal if you have many products (SKUs) and need to move some small portion of them at any given time. Mobile robots can shave minutes off the time it takes for any item to make it through your facility. There’s no wasted effort with a robot, as it goes from point to point. Plus, robots are easily reprogrammable. For example, in the case of eCommerce fulfillment, mobile robots would be most effective when you have to pick from 300,000 SKUs into 20,000 orders, each with one to three items going into containers or bags for shipment. Mobile robots also help maximize facility capacity, with some estimates putting footprint savings at more than 60%.
When deployed as coordinated fleets from a centralized, AI- and software-driven point of control, autonomous mobile robots can provide efficient, cost-effective, and flexible transport. Mobile robot fleets orchestrated by intelligent software can also deliver granular sortation, making these systems a highly dynamic fulfillment automation solution. Mobile robotic solutions also streamline buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and curb-side pickup orders sourced from distribution center inventory. Those “special orders” are handled by the same system processing store replenishment orders, ensuring they are seamlessly coupled with the proper shipments bound for the correct stores.
Dynamically controlled fleets of mobile robots for item and order sortation can seamlessly integrate with existing robotic picking solutions to orchestrate the picking, mobile sorting, and mobile sequencing needed to go from order-drop to delivery in minutes instead of hours. The success of mobile robotic automation for store replenishment or eCommerce fulfillment will also improve exponentially when implemented at the warehouse or distribution center level and carried throughout the entire network of stores.
Mobile robots can let you rewire transport in your warehouse dynamically to improve order fulfillment and store replenishment, exceeding customer expectations and helping you grow your business.
Ready to learn more about mobile robotics?
It is not an understatement to say 2020 was an extraordinary year for the online grocery market. COVID-19 accelerated orders beyond the wildest imaginings of forecasters, and we saw some highly significant acquisitions of robotics companies in the retail space. The capabilities of supermarkets were stretched to breaking point — particularly in the areas of picking, packing, and delivery, where human labour still plays a major role. And as consumer expectations have altered and grown, the path of 2021 has become clearer. To deliver efficiency, cost savings, and customer satisfaction, next-generation automation technology will be essential. And robotics will have a crucial role to play.
For the most part, supermarkets have done well from the pandemic. With pubs and restaurants closed, people are instead spending on food and drink to consume at home. November 2020, the month of the U.K.’s second lockdown, was reported as being the biggest month ever for U.K. grocery sales, with shoppers spending almost £11bn. The big challenge, however, was how to expand online delivery operations to meet the new demand without wiping out all profits.
This challenge has still not been met entirely successfully and supermarkets have been unable to scale the online provision enough to cope with demand. Throughout the 2020 lockdowns, online shoppers have regularly experienced long queues for ordering and low availability for delivery slots. Some supermarkets have even urged people to shop in-store if they can. Miriam Burt, Managing Vice President at Gartner, puts it bluntly: “I think that what the pandemic has showed is that the infrastructure that retailers had in place for moving in the eCommerce world, really failed spectacularly.”
If you work in the eCommerce sector, you’ll be aware that the root of the problem lies with the issue of “last mile” fulfilment. Most supermarkets still rely on humans to physically pick items from the store and to pack them into bags or crates for customers. With online orders doubling, the response for several leading supermarkets has been to bring in extra temporary employees to cope with shifting customer demand. Employing staff to do this job is expensive, and the need to minimise the number of people in a store at one time only adds to the difficulty. This is where online-only grocers have the advantage; mixing pickers and customers is an unhappy solution.
A number of solutions have been adopted across the sector. Some supermarkets have begun to adapt their own stores to provide larger “mini-warehouse” areas inside them, effectively separating customers and pickers. Others have converted shops into “dark stores,” where physical customers are no longer invited in and the building is instead devoted purely to online deliveries. Then there are micro-fulfilment centres, moderately sized and often automated distribution centres in urban areas purposely built to fulfil online deliveries. Occasionally, supermarkets have even expanded their shop-based warehouse facilities by occupying newly-empty adjacent stores.
In a customer-free environment, robotic automation makes the process far more efficient and cost-effective. At Berkshire Grey, we’ve been able to help customers improve labour efficiency by up to 70% by applying AI-powered robotics to picking, packing, and sorting for eCommerce. Deploying robots, however, needs to be part of a holistic approach to automation. This means applying innovation across the entire system. Our own Chief Scientist, Dr. Matthew Mason, uses the development of the motorcar as an analogy: “Put yourself in Henry Ford’s place — trying to automate the horse-and-carriage. If you are focused on components, you might swap a robot for the horse. But if you are focused on the true overall goal, you would look at the whole system. You would ask, how do I redesign the surrounding components to solve the real problem? That is the holistic approach.”
The accelerated shift to online shopping is unlikely to retreat, so supermarkets have to find a way to make their eCommerce fulfilment deliver customer satisfaction and profits. The recent high-profile investments in robotic picking solutions underline that this is the direction in which all supermarkets must head. It is time to modernise the traditional supermarket infrastructure. The good news is that 2021 is the year of the robot — and we’re here to help.
A version of this article first appeared on Retail Technology Review.
Most forecasters would agree the major event of 2020 was not just unexpected but also unimagined across business markets. A pandemic that would shut down, for all intents and purposes, a majority of the world for an undetermined amount of time wasn’t discussed in fiscal planning sessions this time last year. Robotic automation certainly existed on many strategic roadmaps, but 2020 accelerated the need for businesses to invest and implement the technology without impacting customer service.
So now that COVID-19 rewrote commerce in 2020, how do we intelligently prepare and approach 2021? We expect buying trends to continue toward online shopping throughout 2021, reinforcing the need for robotic automation solutions across growing industries.
To start, we must accept that eCommerce demand will remain high across retail, grocery, and other industries — despite a successful vaccine rollout. The change in customer behavior will require businesses to consider changing their business models in two ways: leverage unused store capacity; and implement robotic automation.
Consumers changed their buying habits to adapt to the constraints COVID-19 put on their lives, but for some, the convenience of curbside pickup, buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), or same-day delivery is too appealing to abandon. Even when everyday activities like grocery shopping can return to some semblance of normal, shoppers will not be able to resist repeat ordering, creating more small orders that need to be filled and delivered quickly.
The continued volume of small frequent orders will put pressure on retailers and grocers to get their products closer to the customer. And we predict that not only will the customer base grow, but order count will grow, through repeat ordering, and lead to smaller more frequent order sizes, increasing size and complexity of order fulfillment operations.
Berkshire Grey has been helping customers automate fulfillment throughout the pandemic — whether it’s allowing customers to rapidly scale their operations to meet 2X demand without adding shifts or accelerating store replenishment of goods on shelves.
We also expect to see more businesses consider innovative approaches to cost-effectively update their fulfillment centers. Micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs) will see an accelerated adoption across businesses. MFCs are right-sized fulfillment operations that can be affixed to or collocated within existing stores. They support a smaller geographical radius in closer proximity to customers, making pickup options more attractive and reducing delivery time and costs.
Then there are a growing number of dark stores. These facilities exclusively fulfill online orders. Dark store supporters say the model’s eCommerce fulfillment advantages — for instance, having floor space planned out exclusively for online order picking — outweigh the cost and time needed to fulfill orders in traditional warehouses. Another benefit to dark stores? Order pickers do not have to compete for floor space with other consumers shopping in the store.
Another evolution of the fulfillment center will also emerge in the form of a nano-fulfillment center (NFC). NFCs can usually scale to meet the existing footprint and storage demands needed to support order volume growth. NFCs can help retailers and grocers unlock the storage and sequencing limitations often experienced by medium to smaller stores, allowing them to double their online order capacity.
In addition to optimizing capacity, retailers and grocers will continue to face pressure to keep pace with the likes of Amazon and Walmart. Picking, sorting, and sequencing remain extremely labor-intensive and with the growing volume of more frequent small orders, these companies must look to automation sooner than perhaps originally planned. Adopting automation can reduce the dependency on labor to fulfill the orders and help improve order accuracy as well as maximize existing store capacity.
By applying AI-powered robotics to picking, packing, and sorting for eCommerce, Berkshire Grey customers have improved labor efficiency by up to 70% while increasing operational throughput by up to 50%.
The order fulfillment challenges of the retailers and grocers will benefit other businesses. For instance, Instacart saw its value soar during the pandemic and restaurant delivery services such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, and GrubHub in 2020 expanded their offerings to include grocery and convenience delivery.
These expanded delivery choices for customers will only fuel the trend toward online shopping for all sorts of everyday items. While more services emerge to fulfill orders on demand, there will also be a push across some providers toward piloting autonomous vehicles to address this costly and critical last mile of delivery.
Business Wire shared Research and Markets’ forecasts around autonomous last mile delivery. The market is expected to see a CAGR of 19.15% throughout 2021-2028, with “North America … expected to become the fastest-growing market for autonomous last mile delivery during the forecast years.” Researchers attribute this expected growth to the region’s large eCommerce industry and technological advancements.
According to a recent Forbes article, “Autonomous delivery will continue to play a larger role in the food industry. Goods delivery represents one of the best market opportunities for self-driving in the short-term, so it will be the largest sector for growth in the next year.”
Berkshire Grey provides robotic automation solutions to augment manual processes across facilities today and continues to evolve its technologies to take on emerging, unexpected challenges businesses can encounter.
For instance, Berkshire Grey now offers its solutions via a Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) model, which enables businesses to gain the benefits of robotic automation without the upfront capital expenditure. This model also allows businesses to flex and scale their operations to meet consumer demand. Consumers aren’t likely to go back to embracing a one-size-fits-all approach for groceries, and businesses should enable themselves to be agile to adjust when consumer demand does.
Berkshire Grey’s robotic solutions have autonomously handled millions of items and containers in production facilities, and now they are available via RaaS to solve challenges across the retail and grocery industries.