Ecommerce fulfillment software and systems integration provider Vargo has partnered with robotics sortation and grasping robot maker Kindred and autonomous mobile robot (AMR) creator Fetch Robotics to help their systems better sync with order orchestration and workflows.
This continues a recent trend of system integrators linking up with robotics firms, providing the needed software to sync the bots with operational workflows, a topic that was covered at last month’s Ecommerce Operations Summit.
Kindred has been working with Hillard, OH-based Vargo since it went to market in 2017, when Gap Inc. started piloting Kindred’s sortation robots at one of its facilities. Gap now has 106 of Kindred’s Sort robots at its U.S. distribution centers. Fetch and Vargo connected at a trade show and began discussing a partnership.
In both cases, the robotics companies realized their core competencies weren’t in the kind of waveless warehouse execution (WES) software that Vargo had developed, said Bart Cera, president and COO of Vargo.
“Fetch’s goal is to build cool robots and the software that drives them to optimize their movements, not necessarily to go down a divergent path and figure out an order fulfillment solution,” Cera said. “Similarly, Kindred’s mission is to have AI intelligence involved in recognizing, grasping and putting objects, not creating a holistic order fulfillment system in an ecommerce or retail environment.”
Cera said Vargo is open to other robotic integration partnerships, depending on client needs and preferences. “Would we consider it? Absolutely,” he said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.”
“We certainly value their technology as well as their collaboration in helping to build the warehouse of the future, powered by intelligent machines that ultimately augment the human workforce,” said Marin Tchakarov, CEO of Kindred, in a release.
Stefan Nusser, chief product offer for Fetch Robotics, said partnering with Vargo made more sense than building or buying a WES capability.
“There are a variety of WES providers on the market with broad install bases and differentiated characteristics that determine if a given WES is a good fit for a potential customer or not,” Nusser said. “Fetch has been investing to develop integration interfaces in (cloud robotic software) Fetchcore that make it easier to integrate with an external WES, and we see a lot of synergy in the partnership with Vargo.”
Chris Elliott, a supply chain consulting manager with Blue Horseshoe, said TREW, another system integrator for material handling equipment from the Columbus, OH area, struck similar partnerships with AMR manufacturers GreyOrange and IAM Robotics in 2019. He added warehouse software providers often need middleware that can interact with robotic systems.
Elliott echoed Cera’s point that many robotics providers are good at navigating a fulfillment center, but often look to WES and integration partners for the advanced workflows necessary for today’s high-volume ecommerce fulfillment.
“For example, knowing that a cart will be full at a certain point so the AMR meets the picker at a dropoff location with a new cart and takes the full one is one use case where you could need an advanced WCS to help coordinate between systems like WMS, AMR and sortation,” he said.