October 3, 2018

XPO to deploy 5,000 GreyOrange robots for e-commerce fulfillment

XPO to deploy 5,000 GreyOrange robots for e-commerce fulfillment

Corporate giant also becomes exclusive provider of GreyOrange bots for logistics applications in North America and nine European countries.

By Ben Ames

Transportation and logistics provider XPO Logistics Inc. said today that it plans to deploy 5,000 mobile robots from technology vendor GreyOrange Pte. Ltd. throughout its international logistics sites, and that it will become the exclusive provider of those robots for certain logistics applications across North America, the U.K., and eight European countries.

Under terms of the "strategic partnership," XPO will become the only logistics provider that's allowed to use the robots in those regions, although other customers—such as shippers—will still be able to buy the bots, XPO said in an email.

Singapore-based GreyOrange makes rectangular, rolling robots that combine with pick-and-put stations, mobile storage racks, and the firm's GreyMatter software to form a goods-to-person fulfillment system. The company's "Butler" autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) navigate underneath racks of goods, lift them off the floor, and deliver them to a human employee who can then perform piece-picking work while minimizing the time required for walking and training, Chris Barber, CEO of GreyOrange North America, said in an interview at the CSCMP Edge conference in Nashville on Monday.

Barber did not respond to a request for comment for further details about the XPO partnership.

The large scale of XPO's adoption of the firm's robots follows GreyOrange's announcement in August that it had opened a U.S. headquarters in Atlanta and planned to build a research and development center in Boston and a U.S. manufacturing facility by 2019. At that time, GreyOrange said that it plans to deploy 20,000 robots in the U.S. in the next three years for applications in e-commerce and omnichannel retail and third party logistics (3PL). The firm also said in September that it had collected $140 million in venture capital to help fuel that expansion.

Adopting the GreyOrange units is the latest move by Greenwich, Conn.-based XPO to streamline its operations with industrial robotics. In its most recent earnings call, the company said it is working with 29 separate robotic suppliers in order to improve speed and accuracy in e-commerce and omnichannel retail fulfillment in its facilities across North America and Europe. In other applications, XPO has also used articulated robotic arms and a mobile security bot that patrols parking lots.

In an email, XPO said that adding GreyOrange to that mix is expected to reduce pickers' walking time by 80 percent and eliminate most heavy lifting, to improve picking accuracy by close to 100 percent, and to help shorten the time between receiving an order and getting it out for distribution. The GreyOrange robots are expected to increase fulfillment speeds from a typical manual pick rate of 50-to-80 units per hour to a collaborative robot-assisted rate of 200-to-300 units per hour, XPO said.

XPO will control the GreyOrange system with its own proprietary warehouse management system (WMS) software, which the company launched in March.

"We've developed our logistics technology to integrate the latest intelligent automation and adapt it at lightning speed. This allows us to dramatically improve efficiency, fulfillment time, and costs," XPO CEO Bradley Jacobs said in a statement. "The addition of 5,000 collaborative robots will make our logistics operations safer and more productive in picking, packing and sortation. These are important benefits for our customers—particularly in the e-commerce and omnichannel retail sectors, where order speed and accuracy are essential ways to compete."

The GreyOrange deal is part of XPO's planned $450 million technology investment this year, joining other initiatives such as the XPO Direct shared-space distribution network, voice integration with Amazon Echo and Google Home to track the last mile delivery of heavy goods, and the XPO Connect digital freight marketplace with multimodal infrastructure, the company said.

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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