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Robotics Taking Center Stage in E-Commerce Order Fulfillment

With order fulfillment one of the key challenges to e-commerce and manufacturing on-demand customer requirements, the development of robotic technology has accelerated.

Industrial robotics company Soft Robotics announced it has raised $20 million in an oversubscribed funding round that the company said comes at a pivotal time in its growth. While the company feels it has proven the economic benefit and scalability of its technology, the funding will allow for the next stage of its commercial penetration plans and new product roadmap.

“We’re proud of the team’s work to date to scale up the Soft Robotics’ technology platform and gain significant commercial traction across our customer verticals,” Soft Robotics CEO Carl Vause said. “We’ve been able to address some of our customers’ largest supply chain and automation challenges.”

Soft Robotics unlocks robotic automation for large markets and labor-intensive industries such as food and beverage, advanced manufacturing and e-commerce. The technology leverages patented material science and AI algorithms to design and build automation solutions and soft robotic gripping systems that can grasp and manipulate items with the dexterity of the human hand.

In e-commerce, Soft Robotics technology uses an adaptive gripper capable of manipulating items with varying shapes, sizes and weights. Since the company’s inception, its technology platform has experienced substantial customer validation and adoption, with more than 80 percent annual revenue growth and production installations running 24/7 for Fortune 500 companies and Dow 30 components.

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The new investors include Scale Venture Partners, Calibrate Ventures, Honeywell Ventures, Tekfen Ventures and Yamaha Motor Co., with Hyperplane Venture Capital leading the round. Existing investors include Material Impact, ABB Technology Ventures, Taylor Farms Ventures and Haiyin Capital.

“As investors we aim to match innovative technologies with major, unmet market needs,” Rory O’Driscoll, partner at Scale Venture Partners, said. “The $40 billion industrial automation market is large and growing, but largely limited to industries like automotive and semiconductor. Existing rigid robotic technology just doesn’t work for industries such as food and beverage or e-commerce, because of the variability of the product and the unstructured nature of the environment. With so many industries facing mounting pressure to automate, we aren’t surprised that there has been such rapid adoption of Soft Robotics’ technology.”

ABB, a specialist in robotics and industrial automation, sees the investment in Soft Robotics as part of ABB’s overall strategy to shape the future of industrial digitization and the automated warehouse.

“We saw early on that the Soft Robotics solution is a paradigm shift in the way our machines interact with their environment, especially in their ability to grasp deformable, delicate, binned or otherwise complex items,” Grant Allen, head of ventures at ABB Group, said. “The intuitive control software Soft Robotics has created, combined with their agile gripper, is a linchpin of the automated warehouse.”

On Wednesday, InVia Robotics, a provider of robotics warehouse automation solutions for e-commerce fulfillment centers, said Rakuten Super Logistics (RSL) has deployed inVia’s autonomous warehouse robotics technology in its Nevada operations.

Using the inVia Picker robots and cloud-based Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) management system, the company expects to increase its e-commerce fulfillment and warehouse productivity more than 300 percent as the solution scales with data collection and optimization. RSL is a national e-commerce order fulfillment company whose clients nationwide rely on RSL’s expertise in scalability, flexibility and cost savings.

“For RSL and our broad array of clients, inVia Robotics presents an exciting opportunity to scale demand, manage costs and improve inventory accuracy utilizing a RaaS model,” Michael Manzione, RSL’s CEO, said. “Our partnership with inVia is indicative of our company’s commitment to providing clients with state-of-the-art technology designed to maximize efficiency and minimize costs.”

InVia Robotics supports e-commerce companies in improving fulfillment and streamlining supply chain processes amid the growing demand and competition in the space. Its goods-to-person fulfillment, a subscription-based model, was chosen for its ability to increase efficiencies across many operating cost layers within RSL’s facilities. The company’s fulfillment needs extend throughout several warehouses across the U.S., among major population centers that support expedited delivery for consumers.

Lior Elazary, founder and CEO of inVia Robotics, said, “InVia’s technology and accessible RaaS platform will help the company elevate its e-commerce solutions, streamline fulfillment and continue to scale its operations to meet a growing customer demand.”

The initial pilot deployment was completed in RSL’s Las Vegas-based warehouse earlier this month in only three days. InVia’s patented autonomous mobile picker robots will increase productivity and fulfillment across an array of warehouse operations, including picking, packing, goods replenishment and conducting cycle count, reducing shrinkage and improving accuracy by reducing mis-shipments.

RSL enables e-commerce retailers to increase speed of delivery, improve order accuracy, decrease shipping costs and increase customer satisfaction. RSL’s cloud-based fulfillment platform for order and inventory management features integration with popular e-commerce platforms, and automatic order importing from online marketplaces, including Amazon, Magento, Walmart Marketplace, and Shopify. RSL’s 2-Day Delivery Network of wholly owned and operated fulfillment centers allows for one to two-day delivery via ground shipping to 98 percent of the U.S.