At Dubai’s RoboStores, it is robots that are doing all the heavy lifting

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RoboStores’ lets its ‘automated’ workers do all of the main tasks as new technology and the need for speed of delivery gives Dubai’s logistics centres a makeover. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: At one Dubai warehousing facility, it’s the robots that are doing all the stacking up. And in the most precise manner that one can imagine…

RoboStores is into automated warehousing and fulfillment centre, providing customised solutions for various e-commerce-focussed business. Located in Al Quoz Industrial Area 3, the company has brought on board robots – commissioned from Switzerland – to complete tasks faster than humans would.

“Thanks to the technology and our investment in robots, we have managed to save on manpower and other resources,” said Aziz Al Harbi, Chief Operating Officer of RoboStores. “This is huge, considering we are in the thick of a pandemic.”

The future of warehousing and logistics management just got nearer in Dubai. Aziz Al Harbi of RoboStores gives an update on how it is shaping up. Clint Egbert and Irish Eden R. Belleza/Gulf News

Adding the numbers

RoboStores stocks more than 10,000 “bins” for the products of any type at its warehouse. With a traditional racking system, this would need three or four warehouses. Automation and robots are also helping with keeping the manpower costs down.

“Currently, we only have four [human] operators looking after the products, managing them and their shipment,” he said. “Had we not invested in the robots and the system, we would have depended on at least 20 people to handle such a capacity. From a space point of view, we have saved as much as 75 per cent.”

Al Harbi said it takes just 29 seconds to get a bin delivered to a person with the product to be shipped. “Technology allows a product not to be misplaced,” he said. “A human can take up to half-an-hour to pick an item and bring it. In a traditional warehousing storage, things can get lost and never found. There can also be an error picking an item.

“All this can take longer to find a product. In an integrated system, everything is organised well enough to locate a product, thereby increasing productivity.”

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Not the robots they show in the movies – these RoboStores’ versions do just about all the sorting and stacking one expects at warehouses. And they take only an hour to charge back to full battery mode. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

All coded up

As one walks into the facility, the first impression is of a traditional warehouse with a traditional rack system in place. Get closer and only then will one find the products on display are all specially coded so that they can be recorded into the system.

There are two primary workstations functioning at the warehouse – a put away and a picking station. “Here, the products that need to be shipped or those arriving into the warehouse are placed in bins with separators,” said Al Harbi. “The products are placed into slots inside the bins based on their codes. At the put away station products are sent into storage within the warehouse, while at the picking station, products are picked up for package and shipment.”

Stock - RoboStores' Aziz Al Harbi
RoboStores’ Aziz Al Harbi makes a fine point about best use of his automated workers. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Robots are up to it

There are multiple robots going about their tasks at any given time. “A task can be delivering a bin to a person handling the picking station, or it can be helping the staff prepare an order for delivery and shipment,” said Al Harbi.

“Robots’ task can also be to find an empty compartment or bin to put away products. They help shift bins around to find the correct item. They take into consideration how often a product is ordered and they move it to the top.

“It is efficient to have the bins on top as then it gets moved to the person handling the shipment as early as possible. They also learn that if something is not being ordered a lot, then they move it down.”

How it works

When the customer places an order online, there is an instruction received from the website. When the item is ordered, the system integrates all the components involved to complete the order.

The robots get to work as soon as a customer clicks the order button. RoboStores is able to handle over 1,500 orders a day.

Charging them

There are docking stations for the robots to re-charge themselves. When not in use, these robots automatically dock at the station. A full charge takes an hour.

The robots are only gliding across on wheels so they are not consuming that much power. “They don’t need electricity 24 hours; they don’t need light to operate and they certainly don’t take breaks,” he said.

“The system is modular. If we increase capacity then we add a robot. At the moment we are doing fine.”