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Supply Chain News: The Future of Distribution Automation, It Seems, is Here Right Now

 

New JD.com DC in China Processes 200,000 eCommerce Orders per Day - with Just Four Workers

June 20, 2018
SCDigest Editorial Staff

How many distribution centers workers does it take to fulfill 200,000 ecommerce orders per day?

Supply Chain Digest Says...

While obviously this level of automation would involve huge costs and not be for all, it seems likely to point towards the future of where distribution is headed than not.


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If it's China's second largest ecommerce company, JD.com, and its new fulfillment center, the answer would be four.

That's right: four workers, mostly just there to keep an eye on the operation.

We've reported in recent months about a number of stories in major media such as the New York Times about how automation in distribution will not really eliminate that many jobs, and that humans and robots can happily coexist, especially in businesses that are seeing rapid growth in volumes. (See Another Story on Saying Warehouse Robots aren't Killing Jobs.)

One New York Times article, for example, noted how Dave Clark, an Amazon operations executive, recently said that even after Amazon has installed more than 100,000 of its Kiva robots at 26 distribution centers in the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan, it is still hiring massive quantities of DC associates.

Maybe Clark should go to look at the JD.com DC in Shanghai.

As shown in the video below from the company, JD.com is using a variety of automation that includes:

• Automate carton creators

• Some sort of conveyor systems that merges picked product (probably from a miniload AS/RS system) around which the box system creates a carton, then prints and applies a shipping label.

• Large robotic pickers that place cartons on to mobile robots

• Use of those mobile robots similar to the type developed by China's Lab Z and sold in the US by Tompkins International under the T-sort brand name that act as almost mobile tilt tray sorters to put picked products unto chutes which feed some type of autobagger system below

• Use of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that deliver the bagged goods automatically to the final shipping area, where they are transferred onto conveyors that load shipping trailers.

It's really something – not a human in sight. The short video on the 100,000 square foot JD.com automated DC is shown below.

 

Automated DC by JD.com in China Processes 200,000 Orders per Day with 4 Workers

 
Without the automation, about 180 workers would be needed in a DC to process the same number of orders, JD.com says.


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The system can process some 16,000 cartons per hour.

JD.com also says the system uses artificial intelligence to scan and inspect packages as they're being processed, though it is sort on specifics on how AI is being used.

"At the rate that ecommerce is growing in China and around the world, robotics and automation will be a necessary solution to meet that explosion in demand," said JD Logistics CEO Zhenhui Wang.

Larger Chinese ecommerce rival Alibaba is said to operate a similar uber-automated facility also in the Shanghai area.

While obviously this level of automation would involve huge costs and not be for all, it seems likely to point towards the future of where distribution is headed than not.

Any reaction to this JD.com DC? Will we see mass job losses in distribution? Let us your thoughts at the Feedback section below or the link above to send an email.

 

Your Comments/Feedback

Adam Noakes

Supply Chain Director, TM Insight
Posted on: Jun, 27 2018
JD has a number of these cutting edge facilities, developing the automation to greater and greater levels. I took a group of aussie retail fulfilment executives on a study tour this May, looking at Chinese online logistics operations and equipment suppliers. We visited the latest JD automated facility, and it makes Amazon DC's look like a model T Ford!

In answer to the question above, we have already reached peak warehouse labour in China, and will surely be very close to reaching it in most other developed countries, all of which has some interesting implications for most particpants in the supply chain industry, but I guess it is mostly positive.

For more details on the latest JD DC including the exact layout, processes and equipment, check out my trip report on LinkedIn titled "The Secret World of Robotic Warehouse Automation."  






 
 

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