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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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ProMat roundup: The biggest announcements from Day 1 & 2

CHICAGO — ProMat 2023 is well underway, and the announcements have been coming fas and furious.

The massive trade show, running this week for the first time since 2019, features 1,000 of the top supply chain and logistics companies pitching their latest and greatest solutions to tens of thousands of guests.

As you can imagine, the 500,000-square-foot show floor is jam-packed with firms across industries like robotics, automation, manufacturing, assembly, delivery, fulfillment and information technology — each with their own eye-catching display.

The crowded floor at ProMat 2023 in Chicago features the latest supply chain and logistics technologies. (Photo: MHI)

Unsurprisingly, a host of companies have used the show as an opportunity to share their newest innovations with the world. From Agility Robotics to Zebra Technologies, it seems that just about everybody has news.

Having trouble keeping track of it all? Here’s a breakdown of the biggest announcements from the first two days of the industry’s biggest show:

Warehouse robots dominate the news …

The clear winner so far at ProMat has been the warehouse robotics industry, which has seemingly taken over the event.

With technologies like autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and stationary robotic arms beginning to catch on, warehouse robotics firms are now clamoring to gain that crucial early market share.

One of the largest announcements this week was the U.S. launch of CoEvolution and its multi-robot orchestration platform. The firm, based in Hangzhou, China, is unique in that it does not supply its own robots. Rather, it allows warehouses to deploy bots from any number of different vendors using a global warehouse control system (WCS) and robotic control system (RCS).

Previously, operators would need to integrate their softwares, like their warehouse management system or customer relationship management system, with each individual vendor’s WCS and RCS. But CoEvolution integrates vendors’ systems into its own WCS and RCS, allowing it to manage robots of all shapes, sizes and functions under one umbrella.

Wilmington, Mass.-based Locus Robotics did something similar for its network with the launch of LocusOne. While the solution does not orchestrate robots across vendors, it repurposes the firm’s three AMRs — Origin, Vector and Max — to allow them to handle a variety of new tasks.

LocusOne also features a new software, LocusView, which assigns each bot a mix of tasks in order to optimize efficiency. Those may range from picking and packing to replenishment and even pallet building.

Another massive announcement came from PackSize, which is working with Walmart to automate its packaging process. A new machine, the Ultra 5, has already been deployed at one of the retailer’s four next-generation fulfillment centers, capable of producing up to 600 boxes per hour.

But the key to PackSize’s offering is its right-sized packaging model. The firm creates custom boxes that minimize empty space, which will allow Walmart to fit more packages on each truck — as many as 33% more. Plus, those orders can be packed, labeled and ready to ship within half an hour, PackSize said.

Meanwhile, e-commerce solutions firm Radial announced the opening of a second Indianapolis fulfillment center … and it’s calling on warehouse robotics provider Geek+ to automate it. The 600,000-square-foot facility will feature around 200 Geek+ P800 AMRs, which are designed to automate goods-to-person (G2P) workflows, bringing the shelf to the picker instead of the reverse.

And the robotics firm made a major announcement of its own. In the past year, Geek+ robots picked more than 10 billion items worldwide, an astonishing number that only figures to rise. The bots have collectively traveled farther than the distance between the Earth and the sun, saving 140,000 tons of carbon emissions in the process.

Another milestone came from French firm Exotec, which announced the production of its 5,000th robot just three months after hitting 4,000. Together, they’ve saved warehouse workers more than 16 million miles of walking — the equivalent of going to the moon and back 33 times. The company also highlighted the growth of its North America business, which could represent as much as 40% of its global business within two years.

Elsewhere, several companies announced new robot models. Tompkins Robotics, for example, rolled out PickPal, a series of pick assist AMRs. Currently available in two models — the larger of which can carry up to 220 pounds — the product line is part of the firm’s robots-as-a-service (RaaS) model and will soon expand, the company said.

Another firm, Canada’s Otto Motors, introduced its midsized Otto 600 AMR, building on its portfolio of robotic solutions. The new design is capable of maneuvering payloads of up to 1,300 pounds through tight or demanding environments and around people and objects. Otto also rolled out a software update to improve traffic control, facility configuration and interoperability with other solutions.

Also hailing from outside the U.S., Swiss robotics firm Swisslog unveiled its next generation CarryPick system, which includes faster automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to boost efficiency. Like Geek+, CarryPick enables a G2P workflow — now, its bots can move shelves to pickers faster.

Other firms introduced new updates to their existing robots. One of the more eye-catching upgrades came from Agility Robotics, which announced the new-and-improved model of Digit, its multipurpose robot that looks and moves (kind of) like a human. The bot could be seen on the show floor carrying totes, using its “hands” to pick and put them away.

Meanwhile, Seegrid added interoperability for its two Palion AMRs, the Lift and Tow Tractor. With the update, the two bots can now work together to load and unload carts without a human in sight. Palion Lift can carry up to 3,500 pounds, while the Tow Tractor can pull up to 10,000 pounds.

… but don’t forget about other kinds of warehouse automation

That’s a lot of warehouse robotics news, but other companies came to play too. Among them are a slew of warehouse software providers looking to optimize what those robots — and the humans who work alongside them — can do.

For one, Synergy, the firm behind WMS software SnapFulfil, introduced SnapControl. A multiagent automation platform that orchestrates all devices and robots in a warehouse in one place, SnapControl automates task allocation and workflows for all kinds of devices, from AMRs to robotic put walls, picking the best robot for each task.

Like CoEvolution’s solution, SnapControl is geared toward operators who work with multiple vendors and models. It’s able to integrate either locally or in the cloud with any WMS, order management system (OMS) or front-end e-commerce system, allowing for deployment in weeks.

Elsewhere, a pair of supply chain titans, Zebra Technologies and SAP, collaborated on Picking Plus. An API for SAP’s Extended Warehouse Management cloud, the offering will send data from Zebra’s scanners directly to SAP’s cloud-based database, reducing repetitive tasks and errors in data entry.

The API is part of Zebra’s Enterprise Browser, an open-source application that connects customers to operating systems like Windows, Android and now SAP. The app runs on almost all Zebra mobile computers.

Another pair of announcements came from supply chain management software company Tecsys, which rolled out a digital twinning solution and a new OMS. The former, a Digital Twin 3D Heat Map, creates virtual models of real-world facilities to help operators identify inefficiencies. 

The new OMS, meanwhile, is now decoupled at the front end and back end. That gives brands added flexibility to optimize their tech stack for different use cases, such as marketplace selling and in-store fulfillment.

Rounding out the major warehouse software announcements is Kaleris. The firm announced three new tools for the yard — a driver pre-check-in app, a gate kiosk and a suite of visibility tools — geared toward boosting efficiency outside the warehouse walls. Combined, the three solutions can speed time through the yard.

Forklifts get a lift

Perhaps the most surprising winner of ProMat 2023 has been the forklift industry, which historically has been responsible for a sizable chunk of warehouse accidents, injuries and emissions. But now the industry seems to be experiencing a makeover.

Watch: How do you improve your warehouse safety?


Fittingly, Yale’s rebrand to Yale Lift Truck Technologies and the expanded availability of its Yale reliant safety system are two of the most noteworthy announcements so far. At ProMat, the forklift manufacturer demonstrated several of its models to the public for the first time, highlighting features, like a shock-absorbent platform, that are designed to improve safety.

Yale also showed off its Reliant solution, a suite of detection technologies that’s now available on an additional 13 lift truck models. In addition to automatically braking whenever an obstacle is detected, the system also provides warnings — in the form of a buzz or other notification — to workers in the path of a vehicle.

Not to be outdone, Yale’s rival The Raymond Corporation showcased five new electric forklift models, each suited to a different use case. The Raymond 8530 rider stacker, for example, is ideal for low-level order picking and vertical pallet handling, while the 8630 tow tractor is built for high-capacity, high-volume transport.

And speaking of electric forklifts … Plug Power came out with an expanded solution to electrify fleets with 100 forklifts or fewer. The offering, GenKey, aims to boost hydrogen fuel cell adoption by providing sourcing, delivery and storage of green hydrogen, a lower-cost and lower-emission alternative to traditional hydrogen fueling.

Keep eye out for more ProMat announcements

As of Tuesday afternoon, the announcements above represent some of the biggest so far at ProMat. Warehouse robotics companies were clearly the most prolific, but plenty of other warehouse firms, from software providers to forklift manufacturers, also had much to talk about.

And the show is still rolling. With another day and change remaining, there will be more news to come. Check back with FreightWaves for the latest updates from one of the largest gatherings of supply chain and logistics professionals in the world.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Jack Daleo.

Related articles:

Yale rebrands to Yale Lift Truck Technologies, demos technology at ProMat

CoEvolution introduces multi-robot orchestration platform to US at ProMat 2023

Nimble Robotics raises $65M in pursuit of fully autonomous fulfillment network

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