If you can’t make it to Automate/ProMat 2025 in Shanghai this month, then check out Geek+ in Chicago at ProMat: The future of warehousing
“By 2025, over 4 million commercial robots will be installed in over 50,000 warehouses,
up from just under 4,000 robotic warehouses in 2018.”—ABI Research
In the not-too-distant future, schoolchildren will take tours of warehouses and be horrified to learn that humans once worked in them. Their hearts will sink as they watch old YouTube videos of people in 2019 lifting, pushing, sweating—toiling their lives away—at logistics tasks. Just ask any warehouse worker to confirm that a body does not last too long working in a warehouse…neither does the brain. The brown boxes always win.
The objective of Automate/ProMat each year is to show us the future of logistics, that piece of the not-too-distant future as it inevitably closes in on reality. Each exhibitor booth will show you their view of that future and how their tools will improve productivity, free workers from drudgery, and make every CFO smile.
Automate/ProMat 2019 will do an excellent job painting a picture of tomorrow, but there are some who will be impatient to see more, a lot more…and faster. Well, just in case you are one of the impatient, there’s a 400,000-square-foot warehouse in Shanghai that is Automate/ProMat 2025, here in 2019.
Empty in Shanghai
It’s a JD.com warehouse where 500 people formerly labored eight-plus hours a day, but is now home to but five workers. Schoolchildren will be happy to know that 495 of the former workers are off doing something else. Hopefully, gainfully employed at another warehouse; but what would be better is if they were all reskilled to do something healthier with their work lives. Something less taxing and more pleasing for their minds and bodies. Here in 2019, reskilling is probably not the case; they are, more than likely, toiling still.
Cheapo-Air has a RT flight to Shanghai for $704. The hotels are cheaper than in Chicago, and the food is, well, excellent Chinese cuisine. It’s an inexpensive way to see Automate/ProMat 2025, this month!
China’s JD.com hired Tokyo-based Mujin Robotics to automate its mega-size e-commerce warehouse. Mujin, co-founded in 2011 by American Rosen Diankov (by way of Bulgaria and a CMU Ph.D program). At Mujin there’s no AI and no hand “teaching” a robot to do a job; they program everything. As a recent piece on CNBC put it: Mujin is “building robot controllers and camera systems and integrating them with existing industrial robot arms. The key product here is the controllers — each about the size of a briefcase, one for motion planning and one for vision — that act as an operating system that can control the hardware from any robot manufacturer.”
Programming everything means that there’s tons of processing power necessary, but the proof seems to be evident. Here’s the Shanghai warehouse where it all came together:
Just as interesting are the people who do the work at Mujin. Here, in an obviously staged but interesting video, is the international crew that Diankov has assembled in Tokyo. They are a good representation of the people who are changing our world, robot by robot.
ABI forecast what!?
If you want to see jobs with a future and careers on the rise, then robot programmers have got to be one of them. Job permanence is especially so with forecasts such as ABI Research’s latest: “By 2025, over 4 million commercial robots will be installed in over 50,000 warehouses, up from just under 4,000 robotic warehouses in 2018.”
That forecast seems to border on the incredible, but ABI does quality research, so got to give the numbers some credibility. With the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) forecasting 3 million “industrial” robots in the world’s factories by 2020 (that’s next year!), added to ABI’s 4 million warehouse robots by 2025, it seems a bit implausible that robot manufacturers could manufacture that many robots in so short a time. FANUC, one of the world’s top robot manufacturers, recently increased its total capacity to 6,000 robots per month. Capacity simply does not seem to be there to match the ABI forecast, but only the future knows for sure.
Geek+ North America
If you can’t fit Shanghai into your schedule this week, then pop over to ProMat’s booth N6327 and say hello to the folks from Geek+ (officially Beijing Geek+) for a look at the array of gear they have (including an automated forklift). They have a big corner exhibit, can’t miss ‘em. Last year at MODEX, when we first encountered them, Geek+ (at it’s first-ever U.S. show) had a dinky booth that looked out on a snack bar and the restrooms in a bad part of MODEX town. But the company’s tech was far from dinky; it was mind blowing.
Last year, Geek+ had just scored $100 million in Series B financing from Warburg Pincus and others, plus the co-founder and CEO Yong Zheng was there. Geek+ is new, highly talented and determined. You’ll readily understand why such a massive investment was lavished on this logistics newbie.
See our piece Geek+ at MODEX: Make Way for the Kiva Killers: Geek+ Has Arrived Fleet of Chinese logistics robots debut in North America
Before you visit them at ProMat, watch this video (and as you are watching, think, Kiva Killer and GreyOrange Killer): Geek+ Future Ready Logistics Automation