At first glance, it might look like an electric car racing circuit. Small, agile mobile robots can already be found in the Rudná u Prahy industrial park, but Zásilkovna does not organize races with them, instead speeding up their operations in warehouses. The Czech logistics and technology company has opened its largest warehouse yet, which also includes automated guided trucks called PackMani. They are sorting packages, and the post office expects that in the season leading up to Christmas this year, one in two packages will be sorted using automation technology. In Rodna, the company has 12,600 square meters and can process up to 200,000 shipments per day.
Automation technologies are not just a big topic for Zásilkovna. With the increasing demand for the amount of cargo transported or the speed, but also with the increase in labor cost and less availability, it is necessary to devise new procedures. The Packeta Group, which operates in eight countries and provides services to 34 of which Zásilkovna is a part, first implemented the bot last year. Now he had doubled the number of them in his warehouse to four hundred and increased their capacities again. At the same time, according to its founder Simona Kijunkova, automation is a never-ending process that her company will constantly work on.
The robots in the Zásilkovna department stores do not yet mean that there are humanoid machines walking around buying what is needed; we haven’t got there yet. At the moment the company is betting on small mobile robots, a package of up to fifteen kilograms is loaded on one side and, thanks to intelligent software that controls the entire process, the robot transfers it to the correct container. With its robots, the transport company solves the so-called sorting, that is, the classification of the shipments that arrive at the warehouse and need to be sent. “We are the first in Europe to use this type of robot for sorting. Large American companies use similar systems, but they use them too,” explains Simona Kijunkova.
What does it mean exactly? On the other hand, Amazon believes that as the biggest player of its kind in the world, it also bets heavily on bots. However, every company uses automation a little differently, mainly because their core business looks different. “We all want all shipments to be shipped from one place as quickly as possible, but we don’t know what will reach us. Even though Amazon has millions of products, they still know their unified database. For example, a plastic bag with a bottle inside can. We have never seen them coming here and we have to fix them,” explains Tomasz Dort, who is in charge of the robots at the Zasilkovna warehouse.
So Amazon knows in advance what it will charge for its deliveries. That is why Zásilkovna set up the entire operation to work as efficiently as possible. It starts with a manual process whereby the warehouse worker calls up individual robots and places pre-picked shipments on them. The only and main task of the robot is to transport the cargo to the right place, which can easily reach 1200 when sorted at the delivery points. And this is where it basically makes the job of warehouse workers easier, which it doesn’t. You must search and walk around individual cages. Instead, they’re ready there, and once the robots drop enough packages, they line them up in the cage. There again more capable than Android.
“The person has to put the package in the robot, there aren’t many better ways yet. In the end, the person goes back directly into the cage, it is stronger by folding up to save space,” adds Tomasz Dort, who currently oversees four hundred robots. in Zásilkovná with his team. In particular, for them the computer system is key, which is developed turnkey by the same Packeta group, while the robots are purchased as such in Asia. Rolling karts themselves aren’t very smart and don’t even have many sensors, so they aren’t that expensive. The warehouse robotics manager does not want to reveal the exact amount, but the price of a single robot is said to be in the lower units of a thousand dollars, which is tens of thousands of crowns.
The bot warehouse is part of the largest warehouse that Packeta has opened on its network to date. It is Prologis Park Prague-Rudná and has an area of 12,600 square meters. Packeta currently has a total of 53 warehouses and has invested close to 100 million kroner in their modernization and expansion this year. At the same time, they will assess whether robotics and automation are suitable for each new warehouse and some existing warehouses. According to Thomas Dort, the building must be larger than five thousand square meters, but it also depends on the location and the total volume of shipments. How quickly all technology will continue to evolve can also have an impact.
Right now, the robots move at a speed of between one meter and one and a half meters per second, and in the future Correos wants them to also be able to measure and weigh shipments, which will change their use again. Tomáš Dort already praises it for its durability and charging speed. It can last up to two hours on a single charge and can be charged from 0 to 100 percent in ten minutes. This is due to the unique composition of the batteries, which do not contain lithium ions, but do contain other elements and are produced in only a few factories in the world. Thanks to this, PackMani can withstand ten to fifteen thousand charge cycles. “Your robot will age faster than it will stop working,” adds the head of robotics.
This year, Zásilkovna has also increased the number of automatic delivery boxes called Z-Boxes, to which more and more customer products are delivered. There are already about 5,100 of them in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. “We believe that we are ready for the pre-Christmas season. It is clear that, due to a number of external factors, growth this year will not be as dynamic as in the last two years “However, we believe that the e-commerce sector as a whole will grow slightly this year. We see Paquetá’s expected growth of around 30 percent,” predicts Simona Kijunkova. While last year the turnover of the logistics group was SEK 4.9 billion, this year it is supposed to increase to approximately SEK 6.3 billion.
Various extensions, including the aforementioned bots, help with this. In total, Packeta Group has fifty-three warehouses with a total area of 125,000 square meters. The total daily capacity of the network, that is, physical delivery points and automated drop boxes, is two million shipments. Against the employees, of which there are about 2,500 in the group, only a small part of the robots remains in the warehouse, but they are already proving their effectiveness. PackMani, unlike a system where people sort shipments, can handle and sort more than ten thousand shipments per hour, which is double compared to the current system. However, according to Kijunkova, there is no danger that they will take jobs away from people, and above all it will allow them to do it more efficiently and with greater added value.