Warehouse owner WINIT is based in Shanghai and offers complete solutions for cross-border e-commerce. It also runs overseas warehousing and distribution services in Australia, the US, and several European countries.
The total size of its warehouses abroad is about 399,400 sqm (4.9 M sq-ft), or the size of 56 football pitches. In the UK alone, it runs 3 warehouses, with a total size of 50,000 sqm (538,000 sq-ft), or seven football pitches.
But the company had to deal with even bigger problems as the number of cross-border e-commerce businesses grew in the last two years and more people needed global warehousing services.
Customs statistics indicate that in 2021, Chinese cross-border trade volume amounted to RMB1.98 trillion (284 trillion USD), up 15% compared to the year before. China released numbers last year saying that the amount should reach RMB2.5 trillion by 2025.
One major challenge for WINIT is the huge number of SKUs owned by different merchants, which has raised concerns about warehouse storage density and picking efficiency. To address this, the company decided to automate its order-fulfillment center operations.
WINIT’s warehouse near Birmingham, in the center of the UK, now has about a hundred robots working in it. These computer-controlled robots are used to help pick and sort goods in a warehouse that is more than 30,000 square meters in size.
With the assistance of HAI Robotics, the overall service and functioning of WINIT has not been significantly impacted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With 12 years of experience working in warehousing, Christopher Calderhead never expected that one day he would work with robots.
Calderhead has been working in the overseas warehouse of WINIT for about a year now. As an outbound team leader, he makes sure the system runs smoothly, and orders are fulfilled daily. “Working in a warehouse is tough, especially with manual handling. People usually get sick because of bad backs. There are a lot more locations you have to go to. Therefore, there’s more walking you have to do. At the end of the day, you just want to go home and relax for the rest of the night because you’ve been worn out from working manually. You don’t even have much energy to spend time with your kids,” Calderhead said.
“With the robotic system, we make fewer mistakes. Because there are clear instructions for each action and when we pick the wrong goods the system blocks it. And an easy-to-handle process is in place when something unusual happens. The system saves a lot of manual efforts,” he said.
The warehouse automation project provides 120,000 storage locations with a shelving height of 4.3 meters in a 10,000-sqm warehouse in Tamworth, Staffordshire. HAI Robotics is deploying 100 HAIPICK A42 robots and 16 On-conveyor Picking Workstations in the warehouse. Realizing automated storage and retrieval functions, the average efficiency of it reaches 450 cases/h.
The goods-handling efficiency for the WINIT warehouse improved three to four times more than manual work, with a daily handling volume of up to 50,000 pieces.
The implementation of the HAIPICK system has enabled WINIT to maintain its on-time delivery while ensuring the completion of orders. So far, the company has helped more than 20,000 Chinese merchants export their goods to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and European countries.
The solution has improved storage density by 60% and picking efficiency by 50% in the warehouse with over 100,000 SKUs. The current on-time delivery of WINIT is close to 100%.
Bob, who is in charge of the warehouse, said: “These smart robots have well met our expectations. So far, WINIT has helped more than 3,000 Chinese cross-border merchants export to the UK. We picked HAI ROBOTICS as our autonomous robot supplier among several other companies because it is one of the first developers. Its system has better stability than that of others, and its staff is professional. So we chose them.”
With the HAI ROBOTICS project operational, WINIT’s warehouse throughput skyrocketed, comfortably supporting the inrushing order-fulfillment requests from merchants throughout the world, fueled by the online shopping boom since COVID-19.
In addition, the solution offers the ability to realize significantly reduced labor costs. It reduces the need to hire new workers for labor-intensive, repetitive warehouse work and improves speed and accuracy.
Bob said: “The labor shortage in the UK is particularly apparent now. Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have had dire consequences for the warehouse and logistics sector. Experienced employees are leaving and it’s hard to fill in new ones. As a result, our labor cost, in response, surged too.”
This shortage prompted delivery issues for customers, loss of income for employers and ultimately irreversible effects on those working in warehouses.
By using robots, warehouse workers can also work on more important, strategic tasks and retrain and improve their skills.
Becky, a warehouse employee, stated that she could stay in her workstation and simply wait for the robots to pick up and transport the goods back and forth. She never walks thousands of steps indoors and is free of the pain in her waist.
“Getting the goods now is like getting something at my fingertips,” Becky said. “They make my work much easier. Now I don’t need to move around and bend my waist. Everything is easy. When I got home after work, I still felt my energy and could eventually spend some valuable time with my children. My family is so happy about it!”
It’s predicted that, by 2024, the impact of growing e-commerce sales in the UK could require an additional 92 million sq ft of warehouse space, according to an analysis by Logistics Business.
The average consumer expects fast deliveries of made-to-order, easily returned products, the analysis says.