when picking them,” he says. That requires cameras, sensors, and software. People are still better at this than robots, Nieves says, so his company provides remote human support when a robot is stumped. “Crew chiefs” monitor robot activity and respond when the system alerts them to a problem. “It’s a call center turned on its head,” he says. “Usually, customers call an 800 number with a problem and a chat bot answers. In this case, our robots call people.”
Package sorting innovation extends beyond robotics, however, to decidedly low-tech conveyors. LogistiQ, a new subsidiary of LEWCO, a unit-handling conveyor maker founded more than 100 years ago, now offers a modular portable roller conveyor. MechLite allows e-commerce centers to quickly install sorting capacity in smaller spaces than is possible with traditional conveyor systems. “We can provide similar sorting capacity in footprints as small as 600,000 square feet with an install time that is four to six weeks instead of 12 months, giving companies enormous capacity very quickly,” says Al Sparling, business development manager. He cites a recent situation when a large parcel customer lost a facility to tornado damage. “We received the purchase order on Tuesday and the following Tuesday they were sorting packages in a new building,” he says.
Robots as a service (RaaS) is a subscription model that allows
companies to lease robotic equipment rather than purchasing it outright. The RaaS market is expected to grow from $12.6 billion in 2020 to more than $41.3 billion by 2028, reports Coherent Market Insights. A RaaS agreement makes the $23 million Pitney Bowes/Ambi Robotics deal possible. “We’re expanding rapidly, with many other facilities we need to open or build out,” says Cannon. “It takes a lot of capital to build out the concrete, and RaaS lets us preserve our capital for network expansion.” At Kindred, RaaS is the norm. “That is something that we have been doing since the beginning on our quest to make it as simple and as flexible as possible for our customers to adopt this incredibly nascent technology into their operations,” says Tchakarov. “The customer pays as they go.”
After piloting Ambi Robotics’ AmbiSort parcel sorting system in its Ontario, California, e-commerce hub, Pitney Bowes recently announced it is adding more than 60 of the robots to eight of its 17 e-commerce hubs across the country, with plans to expand to the remainder later. The robots are used in last-mile parcel sortation before sacks are delivered to U.S. Postal Service facilities. The Ontario pilot was part of the shipping and mailing company’s Collaborative Innovation Program that explores emerging technology and its potential impact on the company’s logistics operations. “We helped build out that solution as partners, providing information about what was working and what wasn’t, and how to improve the software and solution,” says Stephanie Cannon, senior vice president and head of global platform and network at Pitney Bowes. After the system was finalized, the partners installed eight sortation systems and eight robots in Pitney Bowes’ Stockton, California, e-commerce hub. Now fully operational, it will serve as the prototype for subsequent installations.
Continued on page 92
Modular portable roller conveyors from LogistiQ allow e-commerce centers to quickly install sorting capacity in smaller spaces than is possible with traditional conveyor systems.
90 Inbound Logistics • May 2022
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