April 20, 2017 – A Chinese courier and delivery service company, Shentong Express, has replaced human sorters with robots in warehousing operations with 30% improvement in efficiency. The bots, called Qianmo Smart Warehouse Robots, are the product of Hikvision. They are the size of a seat cushion and designed to operate autonomously in a warehouse developed to maximize the logistics of parcel flow.
Floor cutouts connect to chutes which are then connected to the trucks that will take the parcel to a final destination. When the package arrives a human operator scans the barcode which contains the destination address. The package gets placed on the Qianmo where it automatically is weighted while being taken to the appropriate chute location. Upon arrival, the bot tips its lid (see image below) and the package drops down the chute to be placed by a human operator on a delivery truck.
The warehouse has a built-in geographical information system to provide a detailed map for every Qianmo which travel along a series of defined paths laid out in a grid pattern. The bots are self-charging and are capable of operating around the clock. Currently, however, Shentong Express is only using them at two locations for six to seven hours daily.
The human component in the operation is not on the warehouse floor. Employees work at the beginning and end of the process. They scan and place the packages on the Qianmos and when the package gets tipped into the chute, receive and load them on trucks. The two warehouses where Qianmos are currently operating are located in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. The company sorts through and delivers 200,000 packages daily using them. It plans to expand operations to all warehouse locations across China.
Last year robot production in China grew by 30.4%. And in its latest five-year plan, China has set an aggressive target, by 2020, to produce 100,000 robots annually. Foxconn, the Taiwanese builder of Apple iPhones, replaced 60,000 of its workers with robots in its Chinese manufacturing plants last year.
To watch Qianmos in action click on the video link. For any humans currently working in warehousing and logistics, watching these robots at work is both amazing and intimidating.