The Robots Are Here

An interview with Michael Jerogin, CEO Dematic APAC

This interview originally appeared in Supply Chain Asia, April 2019

Advances in computing power and robotic technology, along with a gradually decreasing price tag, make collaborative robots, or cobots, a realistic option for even small- and medium-sized businesses.

“Cobots, which are force and torque limited, have advantages in certain applications; specifically, where a human may be working directly next to the robot or is frequently in the same virtual space. This allows for open, shared-space configurations; however, the speed at which the robot can perform its movements is limited to protect the person,” said Michael Jerogin, Chief Executive Officer of Dematic (Asia Pacific), whose company is installing the first high-speed robotic picking systems for customers in the region.

In this interview with Supply Chain Asia, Michael discussed his views on the trend of cobots, robotics and automation in the industry, as well as how Dematic differentiates itself from its competitors.

How would you define Industry 4.0 from the view of warehousing and logistics?

Industry 4.0 enables our customers to make smart, data-driven decisions. Our software platform, Dematic iQ InSights, is a cloud-based Asset Performance Management (APM) system which connects the entire warehouse, to maximise overall logistics effectiveness.

The broad, deep visibility into the Internet of Everything (IoE) extends across operations and maintenance zones, all the way down to single sub-assemblies within the Material Handling System. Combining this real time data and interfacing with both internal and external functions provides enhanced decision making for the operators. Future trends in AI will replace even these human decisions through machine learning. With this holistic data set, the data-driven decision-making engines will provide customers with comprehensive intelligent systems that adapt in real time to changing business conditions.

In your view, is robotics and automation the same? What about AGVs and AMRs (autonomous mobile robots)?

Robots are designed to perform a variety of tasks, capable of retooling and reprogramming to perform different operations and are intelligent and flexible, whereas Automation is designed to carry out a specific task, is optimised for that task and process being performed, and is fixed.

AGVs and AMRs have very similar functionally. They both can transport an item to and from a location. Most AMRs focus on transporting lighter weight shelves, individual cases or totes, while AGVs tend to focus on full pallet loads. Both AMRs and AGVs work well in systems where human intervention is needed to lift or pick loads. AGVs are required for automated picking/lifting, transport, truck loading and automatic placement of product. AGVs are among the original “collaborative robots,” operating alongside workers for decades.

There is a recent trends whereby “cobots’ or Collaborative Robotics are being in introduced into warehousing operations. How does Dematic fit into new form of technologies? Does Dematic fabricate its own robots?

Due to market trends in labour availability, e-commerce growth and rising customer expectations, robotics will be common in the warehouse in the coming years. Robots are widely used to store, retrieve and transport cartons and pallets. More elusive has been full automation of the most complicated and labour-intensive task in the warehouse—Piece Picking. Recent advancements in robotic technology are creating new opportunities to drive efficiency and save labour costs.

Collaborative robots, or cobots, which are force & torque limited, have advantages in certain applications; specifically where a human may be working directly next to the robot or is frequently in the same virtual space. This allows for open, shared-space configurations; however the speed at which the robot can perform its movements is limited to protect the person. Dematic incorporates collaborative robots as the application requires.

Dematic is at the forefront of Robotics and we are installing the first high speed robotic picking systems for customers in the region. It was the natural next step for Dematic, the market leader in Goods-to-Person automated order fulfilment systems.

Robotics will provide our customers with higher performance and greater accuracy, with the ability to run the system 24/7. In addition, there are utilities savings for lighting and amenities.

At Dematic, we integrate our best-of-breed technology with proven partners who make robots to suit the customer application.

What are the differentiating factors of Dematic from the rest of the competitors? To most users, the services and solutions are quite similar.

To the outside observer you may have a point but to the leading companies in the region, be it pure e-com, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, airlines or 3PL operators, that continue to partner with Dematic, there is significant differentiation from our competitors.

Principally it’s our Global experience supporting the fastest growing companies in the world, delivered locally by our over 1,000 employees within this region that provides our value add to our customers. Within Asia Pacific, Dematic has manufacturing facilities, system design and consulting engineers, project management, and full lifecycle services, all provided by local Dematic personnel.

Dematic within this region has maintained fully staffed engineering and service offices for over 40 years.

In fact, this year Dematic is celebrating its 200th year of operation, globally.

Of course we also rely on our world leading software and innovative applications of our products to separate us from our competitors.

What are you plans in expanding Dematic in Asia Pacific? Would Dematic be engaging in more R&D efforts in the region or pioneer the introduction of new technologies?

We are focused on growing our capability and capacity within Asia Pacific. We have established our Regional HQ in Singapore and are investing heavily in our production facilities in China and Australia.

Dematic Asia Pacific has been at the forefront of R&D developments and innovative systems applications for many years. We pioneered the modular Goods-to-Person (mGTP) solution to maximise system flexibility and scalability as well as speed of implementation. We have taken the lead on developing systems in adverse environments such as Multishuttles and AGVs in freezer and blast chill facilities.

Our locally based software engineering teams are continually developing new functionality for our customers and most recently we are pioneering the first piece picking Robots with 2 systems going live in the region in 2019.

Would you be able to share your personal motivation and challenges? Basically, what keeps you awake at night and how you intend to manage the challenges of pushing Dematic to become a leading solution provider in the industry.

In the literal sense I sleep very well, but really, having the calibre of employees that Dematic has within the Asia Pacific region, ensures that when our customers need us we are there. Of course it is not a perfect world, and issues arise from time to time, but I am proud to say we never walk away from our customers and we have the depth and capacity to respond to any issue.

With the rapid pace of change within our industry and within our customers’ operations and markets, the greatest challenge I see is the development of a skilled workforce across the diverse APAC region.

Certainly as an employer we continue to develop our training programs and technology tools in order to support our people and meet the demands of the market. The fact remains that as a region we are faced with skilled labour shortages, particularly when you look at the skills required to keep ahead of the pace of development and adoption of technology. Further exacerbating this is the difficulty in deploying skilled resources where they are needed across sovereign borders. Government, educational institutions and industry need to come together to tackle this.

Dematic is a leading solution provider globally and within APAC. I have the privilege of leading our business in this region and we have inherited a fantastic legacy from our predecessors. I am motivated to ensure when we hand our legacy over, it will be looked upon as excellent. That will come from focus on our customers, engagement with our region, and the continued development of our critical edge: our people.

Finally, APAC would have to be the most exciting region in the world to work in. The diversity of our people and cultures and the daily examples of what is good in the world are all on display in APAC as we continue to develop, grow, and more importantly work together for the benefit of the region.