Leaders in the industry showcased the latest innovations in manufacturing, distribution and supply chain equipment and technologies at ProMat and Automate 2019, at McCormick Place in Chicago, April 8-11.  Hosted by MHI, ProMat was home to 1,000 solution providers throughout the event, with almost one-third of McCormick Place being dedicated to promoting unmanned solutions at Automate, hosted by A3.

Automation is Here

According to Jeff Burnstein, A3 President, “Automation is among the most dynamic emerging markets …”.  No surprise then that we will be looking forward to Automate 2021 when it will be  a stand-alone convention in Detroit, representing the first time that the logistics industry has demanded two separate conventions. Until then there was a lot to learn at this year’s show.

With automation playing such a large role at ProMat this year, we were excited to show off our Swift Solution in action.  At our Booth, Jake and Elwood (two of our Swift autonomous robots) demonstrated piece-picking and conveyor integration, while we also displayed the newest addition to our Solution, Bolt.  Introduced at ProMat, Bolt is a new robot designed with conveyor integration and a transport robot that works in conjunction with Swift to exchange totes and deliver them to the next process in the fulfillment cycle.

The Role of Robotics in the Supply Chain Industry

Other than bin handling entering the market, there was not a lot of new robotic technology introduced on the ProMat floor, but it is clear that the robotics industry is maturing beyond the pilot phase and into real-world usage. And the timing couldn’t be better. IAM Robotics CEO, Joel Reed, was a panelist on the KeyNote “Preview of MHI 2019 Annual Industry Report,” noted that “… we are leaving the era of experimentation.”  Discussion at ProMat—and reinforced by the findings in the MHI Annual Report—was that labor is the most challenging issue facing the supply chain industry.

In fact, it is clear that the industry is ready to move forward with the adoption of digital technologies. The MHI Annual Report shows a rising interest in these technologies, like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and robotics, as well as a sharp increase in spending plans.   IAM Robotics Founder, Tom Galluzzo discussed how the Swift Solution already is being deployed currently in retail distribution, as well as how to incorporate autonomous robots into an existing workforce. George Prest of MHI says, “With supply chain complexity showing no signs of slowing, the risk of inaction is only growing.”    

Growth Requires Collaboration

As the industry moves forward, collaborations that focus on applications are at the forefront. Just as we have partnered with TREW Automation, it is essential for those in the robotics industry to provide whole solutions to solve manufacturing or supply chain problems rather than simply selling robotic parts. Reed discussed the collaborations happening in the robotics industry during his visit to the #RBRStudio and the Passport to the Future Program launched at ProMat featured a partnership of six of the leading robotics companies at the show, including IAM Robotics, PINC, Tompkins Robotics, 6 River Systems, Right Hand Robotics, and Magazino.

Pittsburgh: A Robotics Hub

As always, when discussing the robotics industry, Pittsburgh is a featured hub and the conversations at ProMat and Automate were no different. Reed had the opportunity to discuss the job opportunities in Pittsburgh and IAM Robotics with Noah Roffman of Robots.Jobs, while Marketing Director Kristin Fornal shared the stage as part of the Robotics Cluster Spotlight on Pittsburgh.  

We also were thrilled to congratulate the winners of the RIA Engelberger Robotics Award for Education at Automate, Catherine Morris of ATI Industrial Automation, and our very good friend, Dr. Howie Choset of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science and co-founder of the ARM Institute.

Overall, ProMat and Automate provided an opportunity for the robotics industry to showcase all that it has accomplished while focusing on the next generation of products.  The current state of technology offers a partial solution to order fulfillment challenges, and it will take time and significant resources to achieve a stand-alone, fully automated solution for item storage, retrieval and replenishment systems.  Because of these partial and segmented solutions, the value proposition to make business investment decisions may be lacking, and it is our industry’s responsibility and challenge to bring the next great technology to the market.