June 23, 2021
Rufus Labs, which develops intelligent wearable warehouse technology and workforce analytics software, and inVia Robotics, which provides warehouse automation solutions, have announced a strategic partnership to help warehouses increase their productivity in fulfillment, replenishment, and returns processes.
The goal of combining the two companies’ technologies helps ensure a continuous flow of orders through the warehouse in order to increase picking rates with existing labor. The inVia Picker robots can autonomously retrieve ordered items and bring them to a stationary picker. The worker is then directed by inVia’s PickMate software running on Rufus’ Android-based wearables and tablets to scan the items, place them into an order bin, and then scan the bin. The cycle then repeats, and is continuously improved with intelligence from the inVia Logic and Rufus Labs WorkHero software to more efficiently move goods and people throughout the warehouse.
Both companies offer an approach that includes software to optimize the relationship between inventory, people and robots, as well as AMRs and wearable devices. Both inVia and Rufus systems integrate with most warehouse management software and enterprise resource planning systems. In addition, the inVia Connect translation tool is built into its AI software, matching data fields across systems, which aims to simplify systems integration processes that traditionally take months to complete.
“With the added efficiencies introduced with Rufus Labs’ wearable technology, we expect productivity to reach new highs in our shared customers’ facilities,” said Lior Elazary, CEO and co-founder of inVia Robotics.
Rufus Labs’ WorkHero is a productivity-as-a-service offering that includes workforce analytics software, rugged wearable technology such as computers and barcode scanners that offer real-time scanning metrics, scan and non-scan labor task management, and workforce data to improve warehouse operations. The wearable scanner is modular, allowing workers to choose an ergonomic preference by sliding the scanning module into a ring, glove, or palm scanner attachment. The Rufus RADD Tab, an Android tablet, provides operators using vehicles or warehouse carts hands-free access to supply chain applications to complete tasks faster or more accurately.
“Optimizing humans and robots in the warehouse is key to future sustainability, increased productivity, and ensuring a safe environment for workers,’ said Gabe Grifoni, CEO and founder of Rufus Labs. “Rufus WorkHero already cuts pick time in half and provides added safety features to pickers. Our partnership with inVia will continue to improve throughput for our mutual customers, and allow for future innovations between humans and machines.”
The first joint deployment of inVia Logic software and Rufus WorkHero is with Cargo Cove Fulfillment, the companies said. The third-party logistics provider said it expects to double productivity as a result of the joint integration.
InVia’s Elazary recently chatted with Robotics World about the Rufus partnership, other recent deals and how the company has been dealing with a surge in business due to pandemic-related deployments.
Robotics World: What was it about Rufus Labs that appealed to you for this strategic partnership?
Elazary: We’re offering a solution to customers that are not just about robots, which is a huge differentiation from what other companies are doing. We’re also offering software to basically manage everything within the four walls. Things like replenishment, cycle counting, doing returns, whether they’re using our robots or we’re guiding people, that’s what we’ve always done. Because our system is cloud-based, you can use any device, phones, or a Zebra device. Customers would have to go out and buy a Samsung phone from one place or a Zebra scanner from another. With Rufus, the cool thing is to have everything all in one. It’s a scanner, it’s a phone, it’s a very fast mobile device. It looks really good. With Rufus we were able to basically have our software integrated flawlessly in their device. Our customers can just get this one device with a scanner.
RW: How does this fit within the framework of your goals for inVia Robotics?
Elazary: Basically, our goal is to offer a warehouse-in-a-box kind of solution. Say you’re a 3PL and you want to start a new warehouse. They don’t want to think about how do I do receiving, replenishment, cycle counting and all this stuff. They basically want to just start doing it right away. As soon as they get our software, it’s a full system. You can get your automation and you’re not hiring a traditional integrator that will charge you $1 million to $2 million just to design a system for you and do their customizations. You can get our system, point it in the warehouse to locations, how you want to lay it out, and the system will optimally design and decide where you should do your routing, here’s where you should do replenishment, and here’s where you are picking. Then we give you the whole system with the Rufus device and you’re up and going.
That’s what we’re seeing with a lot of 3PLs in this trend of micro-fulfillment, where they’re trying to have fast shipping times. You can’t deliver something from New York to Los Angeles in less than an hour. In order to do that, you have to have warehouses pretty much all throughout the U.S., and more people are doing that. With our system, you can set it up more easily.
RW: The company also announced a few months ago a partnership with Gnarlywood, where they just deployed the software and not the robots. Was this part of a strategy to try to get companies to not think about the robot part of the automation?
Elazary: If you look at the way we’re planning everything with the software, we think way in advance on when you should pick certain items. Our tools can be used to guide people, and we can guide people very efficiently. In fact, we often get about 2 to 3x productivity increases, about 120 to 150 units or lines per hour with our system. So you could start with just the software, no robots whatsoever. Then we optimize the route, and get the best route possible. But then when you’re ready to introduce robots, what the robots are doing is defragging and taking those items, moving them closer together, and the pickers are still using software, except they’re not traveling longer distances.
With Gnarlywood, they just started deploying the robots, and they will be up and live and running pretty soon. But they’re already used to the software, they know what’s going on and will be able to use the robots and increase their productivity even more. So that’s the goal. I think a lot of customers like that because they don’t want to introduce a hundred robots right away and figure out, ‘OK, what do I do with it? How do I manage it?’ Even the change management becomes complex.
So doing the software piece first basically trains them on the software and how to pick and get them up and running quickly. When we introduce the robots, they don’t see a difference except that they don’t have to walk anymore. The beautiful thing about that is then we can use the personnel to do other tasks. For example, people don’t like doing the same task over and over and over again. It’s very difficult. WIth our system and the picking wall, we allow them to pick, and then they will go to a packing station. The software guides them optimally when to do that, and it creates a more environmentally friendly atmosphere for people. You’re picking for now, and then in the afternoon you’re packing, and they are more satisfied than just having to go, go, go, go and pick, pick, pick – it’s a completely different environment.
RW: How did inVia Robotics handle operations during the pandemic, both with an increasing surge in demand from customers, but also working to make sure you could provide customers with robots?
Elazary: We never shut down, we were constantly shipping robots and working really hard to support all of our customers so they could fulfill orders. Right in the beginning everybody was uncertain, but within two to three months it kicked in and kicked up to full volume. We diverted a lot of engineering time to do more efficiencies and have the robots do even more so we didn’t have to produce as many robots.
Having a RaaS model helped us tremendously during the pandemic. Instead of telling a customer that they’re going to have 10 robots leased at $1,000 per month, we’re actually selling the productivity of the robots – we’re saying we’re going to move X number of totes for you on that wall per hour, and that’s what you’re paying for. During the pandemic, what happened was a lot of our customers had to increase in volume and we couldn’t manufacture. In fact, our manufacturing plant really took a hit. We couldn’t bring people together and we had to figure out how to produce more robots. We even had shortages in CPUs and shortages of batteries – it was a mess.
So what we did was tell our engineering team to basically reduce the number of robots needed by 50% and give them basically twice the productivity with the same number of robots. Because customers are paying for a number of deliveries per hour, it doesn’t matter how many robots are used. One customer said, “Hey, I thought I was going to get more robots,” and we told them that we could double their throughput and productivity without sending more robots. He said, “You’re right, I actually don’t want you guys to put more robots in my warehouse.”
RW: With the pandemic ending, what are customers looking at doing now? Some think eCommerce demand will stay at the same levels, or possibly increase more, while others suggest that people will want to return to physical stores.
Elazary: We think it’s going to maintain the same because we have a few customers who are saying that even if things go back to normal, they don’t want to be caught in the same place ever again. For them, it’s a risk if they open a store back up and something like this happens again and they can’t fulfill orders. We have several customers who said they don’t even care about what’s going to happen in the future. They saw what could happen, and they don’t want it to happen to their business, so they will be automating.