IAM Robotics was founded in 2012 to offer a fresh take on warehouse material handling.
Hailing from Carnegie Mellon University, CEO Tom Galluzzo saw a huge opportunity to bring technological and economic advantages to sprawling distribution and fulfillment centers that serve both retail stores and consumers directly through online shopping.
IAM’s unique designs are achieving firsts both with the patent office and in the market.
Recently, the U.S. Patent Office awarded IAM the first patent for warehouse picking robots.
“Receiving this patent is strategically important,” said Galluzzo. “It means we’re the first in this space, and that’s a very big deal. It pertains to the way our mobile manipulation capabilities enable a new method for robotic picking and material handling. This carves out a big space in logistical material handling for us over the next 20 years.”
Galluzzo also noted that IAM’s robots reached human levels of performance at its initial customer site at Rochester Drug Cooperative (RDC) – another way the company now stands out on the competitive landscape for robotics.
“We’re the first company to put machines to work for mobile picking applications in a human environment,” he explained. “Our robots can travel within a warehouse, identify ordered items and manipulate them, doing the same tasks that people do today.” This achievement has already earned IAM attention from technical and industry publications such as Forbes Tech Online and Modern Materials Handling.
The industry has taken notice. “The economics of our robots are the most compelling feature,” Galluzzo explains. “The U.S. is facing a labor shortage of nearly 1 million stock workers by 2020. Stock picking is physically demanding and tedious work. Aging workers are retiring, and younger workers who grew up in a digital age don’t want to do this – especially with other options in the gig economy. Warehouses experience frequent turnover, usually within nine months.”
“Further, this problem is compounded by the fact that e-commerce continues to grow exponentially, driven by increasing consumer demand and expectations for delivery and personalized goods. Automation is the answer,” Galluzzo said.
Instead of turning to a heavily engineered solution – such as sortation and retrieval systems that look like giant vending machines – customers are looking for more flexible solutions. As such, IAM built a robot-driven solution that has robots perform the labor of picking within existing warehouse shelves.
To enable robotic picking, a “Flash” scanner is used to scan the barcode and physical attributes of any item, such as a bottle of suntan lotion. Flash also weighs the product and takes a picture of it to create a visual memory. The customer keeps Flash onsite to scan new items and to rescan any products if appearance or dimensions change.
Proprietary “SwiftLink” software then connects this data to orders from the warehouse management system (WMS) allowing a Swift Robot to make a match and complete its task.
The integration of Flash, SwiftLink, customer data and the Swift Robot enables IAM Robots to quickly and accurately handle items from shelf to shipping, Galluzzo explained.
Rochester Drug Corporation in upstate New York is an early adopter of the IAM solution. “A person fills approximately 150 orders per hour, while our robot now exceeds that rate at nearly 160 orders per hour,” Galluzzo says. “It takes 10 times the number of people to pick items than to replenish them, so there’s significant cost-savings using our technology to pick.”
Driven by early revenue-generating clients, IAM Robotics hired six new employees in the second half of 2017 and rebranded itself with a new logo and website. Galluzzo expects the team to double or more in 2018 with new client installations and strategic venture investment.
“This year will move us completely into the commercialization phase, starting with existing customers and progressively scaling vertically in our target markets,” he said. “We’ll continue to innovate with new technical capabilities, but our focus now becomes proving return-on-investment to our customers and scaling adoption within the market.”