InVia Takes Service-Based Approach to Warehouse Robotics

A new company entering the crowded warehouse robotics space for automating ecommerce fulfillment claims to be the first to market with a “goods-to-box” robot system that uses a pay-as-you-pick service model to make it scalable and affordable for merchants.

inVia Robotics, which has ink and toner cartridge maker LD Products as its first named customer, actually uses two different robots. Grab It uses an extensible platform that picks items off a shelf using suction cups, and hands them off to Transit, which has built-in totes and brings them to a pick station. Grab It can also place items directly into a box for a worker to pack and process. The system can pick items up to 30 lbs. and up to two feet by two feet square.

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Sensors allow the robots to move faster in human-free zones, and slow down when interacting closely with warehouse staff.

For items that don’t need to be boxed, inVia robots can deliver them directly to a labeling station on a conveyor to be shipped out. And for items that the robots can’t grab, it brings a tote and then delivers them to a pick station.

“A customer can scale very easily by adding more robots to handle throughput as the demand grows, from hundreds or thousands to hundreds of thousands of picks per day,” said inVia Robotics CEO and co-founder Lior Elazary. “They don’t have to worry about accommodating future vs. current demand or peak spikes, like when they acquire an expensive automation system.”

inVia’s founders, who met while studying robotics at the University of Southern California, hold several patents related to their technology.

inVia engineers map out a distribution center to accommodate and prepare for the new system, and can set up a pick zone in a day or less, as it did at LD Products’ Mountville, PA facility, according to its CEO, Aaron Leon. According to LD, inVia has helped the company improve productivity and efficiency, and makes it easy to plug in new robots who work as if they’ve been there all along.

Two other ecommerce firms have been using inVia in its beta phase for the past year, but there are NDAs prohibiting their mention, Elazary said.

“Using inVia gives companies cost certainty, knowing how much each pick costs, Elazary said. “Because the robots are doing the picking, they can have workers focus on more important tasks like quality control, making sure items are packed right.”

Elazary said using inVia can reduce the cost per pick for merchants by up to 60%. Its service model, which charges a monthly fee based on a set number of picks, also eliminates massive upfront costs from acquiring a system. Setup, maintenance and service are handled by inVia.

Cameras on the robots take pictures of each item just before it’s picked, which can be retrieved later – either through inVia or a warehouse management system – to verify if it was damaged during picking or somewhere further up the supply chain. This also reduces mis-picks as the image is compared to the SKU being retrieved. The growth of artificial intelligence, as well as the advanced vision sensor algorithms inVia has developed allow it to keep the hardware costs low on the system, Elazary said.

A robotic management system allows inVia users to make real-time decisions about redeploying the robots in a facility and fixing workflow issues. For instance, in a replenishment scenario, the system digitally maps out the area where the work is to be done and removes it afterward. Also, the system can be programmed to evenly distribute high-volume items throughout the warehouse to making picking more efficient, or make use of unused holes on shelves to optimize space usage.

Elazary said the company is getting many inquiries from ecommerce companies, who can view live demonstrations of the inVia system at its facility outside Los Angeles. They can even bring their own product to the warehouse to see how the robots handle them.

“One of the biggest sticking points is can it pick my item?” Elazary said. “At our demonstration warehouse we’re working with a number of large etailers who bring in their own items. We reset the system and show how it would work in their facility.”

Mike O’Brien is Senior Editor of Multichannel Merchant

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