Making Automation More Accessible with Autonomous Mobile Robots

Playing on a different field, Botsync is bringing a B2B offering to the warehousing world.

Botsync is a Singapore-based startup that builds cost-effective autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that caters to the need for digital transformation and helps to automate warehouses. The startup was founded in 2017 and was incubated at the EcoLabs Centre of Innovation for Energy, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

The startup’s automation solution is scalable and requires minimal or no changes to existing infrastructure. According to the startup, after deployment, the AMRs can reduce the overall cost of material handling operations by up to 45%.

Botsync recently raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding from Wong Fong Industries Ltd., SEEDS Capital, AngelHub, and Artesian Venture Partners in June this year. The startup also counts Hong Kong-based hardware accelerator Brinc, and NTU’s Ecolabs Center of Innovation among its early backers.

The germ of the Botsync concept took hold of four robotics enthusiasts when they teamed up to participate in a robotics competition at NTU. In fact, after the incorporation of Botsync, the founders’ first initiative was to solve a problem they had faced during the competition, says Co-founder Nikhil Venkatesh: to build a simple ground robot at a price suitable for the Asian market.

Botsync founding team
The Botsync team. Photo courtesy of Botsync.

Standing out from the crowd

Most AMR companies are focusing on the low payload range for B2C warehouses or fulfillment centers that handle final packaging before the products are shipped to the customers, says Co-founder and CEO Rahul Nambiar.

Botsync, therefore, focuses on warehouses higher up on the supply chain, or B2B warehouses that receive products from the factories and distribute them to the local warehouses. Botsync’s robots can handle payloads between 500 and 1000kg, making them suitable for these heavier-duty B2B warehouses.

Additionally, the startup also helps build entire hardware, software, and fleet management systems, alongside integrations with other tools like warehouse management systems, specially customized for processes in the logistics industry like internal stock transfers.

“The idea is not just to provide a platform for a company to start using it, but rather to provide them a solution which automates their material handling needs,” says Nambiar. “We are not looking at just making platforms and just finding customers, but rather, in terms of how do we automate this process even better?”

Digital adoption has its unique challenges in every sector. The logistics and supply chain market has been especially lagging in technology adoption compared to other sectors, since automation in warehouses usually involves significant infrastructural changes and downtime.

To make the transition seamless, Botsync has a 5-step deployment process, and is currently working on reducing deployment time to one week, says Venkatesh.

Warehouse Automation is a critical piece required for digital supply chains

The novel coronavirus has impacted businesses around the globe and highlighted the importance of hygiene and social distancing. Lockdown measures and movement restrictions implemented to curb the spread of the virus disrupted supply chains across the world.

Amid the global pandemic, establishing a minimal or no-contact supply chain or production process can ensure business continuity and the safety of employees, says Nambiar.

Botsync’s robots can, therefore, help businesses minimize contact in B2B-oriented warehouses through automation, reducing the need for forklifts and personnel and allowing workers to maintain social distancing.

But in the long run, the drive towards automation and digitalization is going to create the need for a digital supply chain, Nambiar believes.

“The autonomous robots form a critical piece of the digitalization strategy, essentially giving the management full visibility they need in terms of what is happening at every stage of the process so that they can make critical decisions a lot more quicker than what they were able to do a while back,” says Nambiar.

According to him, this strategic initiative will likely be adopted by many companies that want to be able to prepare for similar crisis in the future.

Furthering robotics research and awareness

The three year old startup also operates ‘Botsync Labs,’ which offers robotics education courses, training, and research, in a bid to make automation more accessible.

According to Venkatesh, general awareness and knowledge of mobile robot automation is lacking in the Southeast Asian market, and the Botsync Labs initiative was undertaken to tackle this problem.

Under the initiative, workers and employees of warehouses adopting automation can come in to train and educate themselves about how to behave in the environment, how AMRs work, and how they can cooperate with AMRs and learn to work with them.

Botsync’s products Volta and Copernicus are specifically designed to accelerate research efforts and improve scope for technical training in robotics.

The startup believes that adoption of automation can become easier by re-skilling the workforce to operate in an automated environment, and Botsync Labs is trying to equip people with the skills required to do so.

Making automation accessible through Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) model

Automation is cost-intensive and usually requires significant capital investment, which could prove to be especially difficult during the pandemic, when most businesses are facing a cash crunch.

In traditional automation solutions, the facilities are usually shut down for about three months and then a new automated facility is set up where businesses restart operations, Venkatesh explains.

These types of capital intensive solutions are generally not affordable for small and mid-sized companies. Therefore, furthering its vision of making automation more accessible, the startup offers a subscription-based annual plan that reduces upfront cost for businesses and covers upkeep, maintenance, servicing, and software upgrades.

Since the daily processes can continue to operate during the deployment of Botsync robots, there is no operational downtime required for the transition. This makes automation accessible for SMEs that cannot afford to halt operations. Besides, clients receive not only the robots, but a smart AI-enabled fleet management system which makes it easy to control and coordinate between AMRs.

AMR market forecast

The global AMR market brought in $29.3 billion in revenues in 2019, with Asia-Pacific dominating sales. It is expected to generate $220.6 billion by 2030, factoring in a compound annual growth rate of 18.3%, according to a report by Research And Markets.

The report further states that the growth in the AMR market is fueled by two key factors: increasing demand for automation solutions, and the growth of ecommerce.

The increasing popularity of ecommerce, boosted by the lockdown restrictions due to COVID-19, has increased the need for digitization and automation to increase productivity and transparency.

Moreover, the demand for automation solutions is mushrooming around the globe due to high labor costs, increasingly complex manufacturing processes, a need for higher productivity, and a lack of adequate labor.

Major Asian players in the market include Beijing-based Geek+, which recently announced final fundraise of over $200 Series C, and OMRON Industrial Automation, but Botsync is aiming itself on the trajectory to provide formidable competition. Time will tell whether the company’s multi-layered strategy pays off.

Images courtesy of Botsync

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