This position has been reinforced with the opening of the company’s European headquarters in The Netherlands, a move set to act as a springboard to the next phase of growth in the company’s ongoing development as the AMR supplier of choice to some of the world’s leading logistics businesses.
It is a position the company’s senior management in the United States could barely have imagined when they took the decision to expand their operation across the Atlantic three years ago. But then, the world is a far different place now than it was even eighteen months ago.
The justification for the expansion into Europe back then had been an easy one. The region was primed for growth with the e-commerce industry seeing a steady and predictable increase in the levels of business being transacted in fulfilment warehouses throughout the UK and the EU.
Pioneers in the use of the company’s autonomous mobile robots were reporting dramatic improvements in their productivity levels as a result of deploying fleets of the robots in their fulfilment warehouses.
Companies such as pharmacy and beauty retailer, Boots UK, which partnered with Locus Robotics early in 2019. It opted to deploy 135 of the collaborative LocusBots in its Burton-upon-Trent warehouse facility to support anticipated peak season volume growth. The LocusBots were deployed to work collaboratively with the warehouse’s existing workforce, travelling to various picking locations while the pickers remained at their station and the robots ferried the goods to the packing station.
Instantly, hours of unproductive walking time on the part of the human workforce were eliminated from the picking process, workers no longer had to haul heavy carts around the warehouse floor and productivity shot up.
The deployment was such a success that the LocusBots helped drive a 200% increase in productivity, helping Boots fulfil more than three million items throughout the Black Friday season (November 21 through December 2). The Locus solution also improved workplace culture, with a 77% reduction in worker accidents and a significant reduction in worker absences and attrition, with cross-generational acceptance of the Locus technology.
Seeing such results, Boots opted to scale up its Locus solution in January 2020 to more than 200 bots. The timely decision to expand its robotic fleet benefited it greatly during the unanticipated COVID-19 pandemic when shopping moved from in-store to online.
Similar rises in productivity were reported amongst Locus customers in other countries in the EU. All this being achieved even before the full onset of the pandemic.
But the justification for increasing warehouse automation was growing even before issues such as Brexit and the pandemic combined to act as major accelerants.
Temporarily boosting the size of workforces with armies of labour was increasingly being seen as unsustainable. Rising labour costs and the availability of workers in a shrinking labour pool was forcing many companies to implement change; add to this the effects of the pandemic and the need to have socially distanced warehouses, then even the most robust of supply chains were being severely tested.
Complicating the picture for operators has been the UK’s split from the single market. Multi-national operators fearing disruption to supply chains in the wake of Brexit have been setting up satellite operations on mainland Europe to avoid problems, many tempted by relocation incentive schemes offered by the likes of the Belgian and Dutch governments.
Savvy UK operators have planned ahead. In many cases this has meant accelerating investment decisions. Plans to automate processes which may previously have formed part of a five-year, even a ten-year business plan were brought forward so upgrades could be made straight away and the technology installed to enable productivity improvements that could keep pace with growing order volumes.
This has benefited suppliers such as Locus, whose solution has helped fulfilment warehouses maintain the efficiency of their operations throughout the pandemic, when peak levels of business were seen on an almost daily basis.
The revolution in warehouse automation and the productivity results it is helping to achieve mean there is now no going back to the traditional solutions for dealing with peak period challenges.
Against this backdrop, Locus is now planning the next phase of its growth strategy; a strategy underlined by the enormous potential for warehouse automation across both the UK and Europe.
Key to this strategy has been the opening of its new European headquarters in Amsterdam; a move which will both anchor current growth and support new business opportunities as they continue to emerge throughout the region.
The opening of the Amsterdam facility is the culmination of a busy autumn for the US company, which has seen it conclude its first major acquisition and complete its second major funding deal in the space of twelve months.
Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics, said: “Our decision to expand our presence in the European market was a logical step in our business growth strategy. Choosing Amsterdam gives us a central location that is ideal for serving our customer base, as well as giving us access to a vibrant and diverse talent pool to recruit from.”
Fresh from a successful appearance at IMHX Connect, the company is now primed for sustained growth as it looks to capitalise on new opportunities emerging in the warehouse fulfilment sector. The strategy has also been boosted by the completion of a significant step in the company’s expansion programme, the acquisition of Waypoint Robotics, an industry leader in industrial strength, autonomous, omnidirectional mobile robots.
The acquisition broadens the Locus product line of proven AMR solutions designed to address use cases from e-commerce, case-picking, and pallet-picking to scenarios requiring larger, heavier payloads and fulfilment modalities.
Rick Faulk added: “Locus is the proven leader in the development of highly productive and innovative AMR technology that efficiently solves our customers’ needs for total warehouse optimisation.
“As order fulfilment and labour shortages continue to grow around the world, the acquisition of Waypoint Robotics will accelerate our ability to meet these global needs in just months rather than years, helping us drive the digital transformation of the warehouse.”
Waypoint Robotics, based in Nashua, New Hampshire, develops and manufactures omnidirectional autonomous mobile robots for automated material transport. Like the LocusBot, its robots can be put to work immediately, supporting an existing workforce, increasing their efficiency, and improving productivity.
“Waypoint shares Locus’s commitment to technology excellence in pursuit of customer success,” said Jason Walker, CEO of Waypoint Robotics. "We’re excited to contribute to the expansion of the Locus product family in order to deliver a broader range of solutions, as well as access to new market segments.”
Waypoint’s innovative Vector and MAV3K are industrial-strength, flexible mobile robot platforms that feature omnidirectional mobility, and can be fitted with a wide variety of modules and attachments, making them versatile and scalable for a host of applications. The Vector has two payload options – 136kg (300lbs) or 272kg (600lbs), while the MAV3K is for more heavy-duty lifts with a payload capacity of 1,360kg (3,000lbs).
Creating synergy with the LocusBot, they are interoperable with other robots and can easily communicate with machines and IoT devices throughout a facility.
With the ability to offer customers a choice, or a combination of robots, the acquisition gives Locus the opportunity to target new sectors, such as the manufacturing sector.
Jordan K. Speer, Research Manager, Global Supply Chains, IDC Retail Insights, said: “Warehouses and fulfilment centres benefit by harnessing the strengths of humans and robots working in collaboration. These cobotic environments are further optimised when a range of differently ‘skilled’ AMRs are employed. With the acquisition of Waypoint Robotics, Locus Robotics is able to bring more capability to the fulfilment floor.”
Full integration of Waypoint is expected to benefit the European arm of Locus in due course.
Investors have also been keen to support Locus’s expansion. Tiger Global Management is an investment firm that focuses on private and public companies in the internet, software, consumer, and payments industries. Earlier this year it was one of group of investors that pumped $150 million into Locus. Tiger Global Management has now injected an additional $50 million into the business to facilitate continued growth and expansion into new markets.
“At a time of increasing volumes and ongoing labour shortages, this new round of funding underscores how critical flexible, scalable, intelligent robotics automation has become to the warehouse and the supply chain,” added Faulk.
With existing fulfilment operations expanding and new operations coming on stream to serve the growing e-commerce sector, the fulfilment industry, whether in the UK or Europe is creating major growth opportunities for those supplying proven fulfilment solutions.
The Locus AMR solution is very much one of those to be proven, helping businesses cost-effectively double, even triple their productivity when compared to traditional fulfilment options.
The innovative and award-winning technology behind the company’s multi-bot solution has now helped to pick more than half-a-billion units in warehouses around the world.
Such has been the rapid adoption of the fulfilment solution by logistics operators globally, together with the explosion in online order volumes over the past eighteen months, that the latest landmark was attained just 94 days after Locus reached its 400-millionth pick.
The 500-millionth pick was made at a VF Corporation Fulfilment Centre in Prague, Czech Republic and the item picked was a pair of Vans Old Skool shoes.
With the proven benefits to productivity, it is little surprise that logistics operators globally are increasingly making Locus their number one fulfilment solution.
DHL, the world’s largest logistics company with over 1,400 warehouses and offices in more than 55 countries and territories, has recently signed a 2,000-bot deal with Locus as part of its efforts to digitalise its supply chain processes.
By 2022, the supply chain specialist will be by far, the largest customer of Locus Robotics worldwide. It will deploy the assisted picking robots in e-commerce and consumer warehouses to help with picking and inventory replenishment, thereby increasing efficiency and accelerating delivery processes.
Rick Faulk said: “Our expanded partnership with DHL reflects the increasing demand for warehouse digitalisation worldwide to meet today’s exploding fulfilment challenges. Locus is proud to be a valued technology resource that is helping DHL realise their strategic vision of digital transformation.”
Sally Miller, CIO, DHL Supply Chain North America, added: “DHL Supply Chain and Locus Robotics have established a productive partnership based on a highly successful integration of the Locus autonomous mobile robot solution into our customers’ operations, and we value the emphasis they have placed on listening to our needs.”
For more information on Locus Robotics visit www.locusrobotics.com