April 6, 2018

RightHand and Vecna offer combined piece-picking and mobile robots

Partnership could reduce picking errors and human touches of inventory, alleviate labor shortages, RightHand says.

By Ben Ames

Automated warehouse picking startup RightHand Robotics Inc. and mobile robot vendor Vecna Robotics will collaborate to offer users a combination of their two platforms that will provide autonomous e-commerce order fulfillment, the firms said Tuesday.

By combining their strengths in different areas of material handling technology, the partners can fill the gaps that exist in fulfillment workflow at many warehouses, the companies said.

Integrating Somerville, Mass.-based RightHand's piece-picking gripper hardware with Cambridge, Mass.-based Vecna's autonomous mobile vehicle could streamline warehouse operations by reducing the number of picking errors, human touches of inventory, and labor shortages throughout day, RightHand co-founder Yaro Tenzer said in an interview.

The partners plan to demonstrate their combined technologies at the Modex trade show in Atlanta next week, using RightHand's back-end software and gripper hand, a robotic arm from Universal Robots, and Vecna's RC20 robotic conveyor vehicle, they said. The RC20 is Vecna's smallest, most affordable, autonomous mobile platform—named for its carrying capacity in kilograms (about 44 pounds)—for moving totes, boxes, and bins. The company also makes robotic lifters and tuggers with carrying capacity up to 4,500 kg (9,920 pounds), but those models are not currently part of the collaboration, RightHand said.

While RightHand and Vecna both supply robotics for the material handling industry, their specialties do not overlap, so the collaboration could drive new business opportunities for both companies, Tenzer said. "In the warehouse, some vendors offer a warehouse management system (WMS), some offer a warehouse control system (WCS), some offer mobile bots, some offer vertical storage, and some are good at singulating items," (an industry term for removing a single piece of inventory from a loaded bin), he said.

Partnerships between logistics technology providers may not yet be common in the industry, but RightHand has made several similar deals before, Tenzer said. The company announced last month it had integrated its RightPick piece-picking solution with an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) from SencorpWhite, and had previously collaborated with platforms, including a sorting system from EuroSort Inc., a shuttle system from Honeywell Intelligrated, and an auto-bagger from Accutech.

Each partnership supports a variation of "goods-to-robot" material handling systems that reduces the number of humans needed for warehouse operations and can help cut costs and improve reliability for fulfillment in retail, pharmaceuticals, electronics, grocery, apparel, and other industries, according to RightHand.

Partnerships between robotic systems providers could impact the logistics industry by building up an ecosystem of modular mobile robotics, said John Santagate, research director for service robotics at the Framingham, Mass.-based analyst firm IDC. The concept of enabling mobile robots with robotic arms for piece picking isn't necessarily new, he said, pointing out providers such as inVia Robotics Inc. and IAM Robotics. But achieving that capability through partnerships between independent technology providers could allow those firms to focus more tightly on their core competencies, said Santagate.

The approach of providing robotic platforms in a bundle—instead of as separate spot solutions—could also boost their adoption by retail customers that may not be interested in becoming early adopters of new technologies, said Michael Murrison, director and principal of supply chain services at Boulder, Colo.-based consulting firm SCApath LLC. "Making robotics more accessible is critical to the adoption rate in supply chain, and generating cohesive fulfillment use cases will certainly help both Vecna and RightHand in that cause," Murrison 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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