Some warehouses are looking to mobile robots or picking systems to increase efficiency, but others are looking to automated storage and retrieval systems, or ASRS, for space savings and throughput. Last week, Fabric Inc. announced that it had secured a patent for the ability for its ASRS to store totes and items of multiple sizes.
The Tel Aviv, Israel-based company said at the time that its multi-tote-size ASRS can help customers, particularly micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs), maximize their use of vertical warehouse space while handling a wider variety of SKUs than existing systems.
Fabric focuses on selling tech in demand
Founded in 2015, Fabric took a different go-to-market approach than other ASRS suppliers, but it pivoted when it realized that the conventional wisdom about robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) offerings wasn’t sufficient, according to Morav.
“Fabric created a vertically integrate hardware, software, and robotics stack as a tech-enabled third-party logistics provider [3PL], offering fulfillment as a service to retailers, brands, other 3PLs, and grocers,” he said. “Then, in July 2022, we pivoted away from that approach and to what the market told us they wanted — to sell technology, not a service.”
“Companies wanted to make their operations more cost-, labor-, and space-efficient at better customer-service levels than manual processes or legacy storage systems from 20 to 30 years ago,” Morav added. “Our technology has to constantly evolve. We have iterations of robots on our roadmap for 2024 and beyond to drive improvements in robustness, reliability, density, and utilization.”
Patented ASRS promises flexibility
While Fabric’s product always had some multi-tote capability, the company worked on the patent for about 18 months, explained Morav. Fabric’s origins as an MFC provider helped it understand how to efficiently fulfill orders in “atypical” spaces in dense urban areas that wouldn’t accommodate traditional ASRS, he said.
“This was the foundation of our thinking for constrained spaces,” Morav recalled. “Retailers have a range of SKUs on the volumetric spectrum, and they’re not getting optimal use if they’re using a one-tote solution. We built our ASRS to deal with constrained spaces and, as it scales, to drive better utilization and faster ROI [returns on investment] with multi-size totes.”
What is the range of products that Fabric’s ASRS can handle?
“It spans health and beauty — from a small lipstick to large bottles of shampoo for business use — to pharmaceuticals and grocery items,” Morav replied. “Fabric can handle multi-temperature sites, with chilled or ambient containers for perishables like frozen food or chicken, loose produce, and packaged goods like cereal boxes or pasta sauces.”
Fabric’s system takes the volumetrics of each item into account, guiding the operator where to place an item in a multi-SKU tote with plastic dividers. This also ensures that items are load-balanced within the tote.
“That way, we wouldn’t have five large jars of pasta sauce in one corner,” said Morav. “It’s all driven by logic.”
Robots plus logic equals customer satisfaction
Fabric’s ASRS includes the physical architecture and layered software logic to allocate totes with larger and smaller cells for storing items of different sizes, said Morav. “The robots alone are great, but we have to make sure their output brings business value,” he said.
“It’s a feature in demand universally,” he asserted. “These kinds of systems unlock a handful of efficiencies in a few key business metrics. The first is how to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled because of the labor market.”
“The second is that we can reduce storage footprint dramatically while maintaining a high level of througput,” Morav claimed. “The third is that Fabric provides speed and flexibility to more accurately meet customer-service levels, so their experience is on par with our promises.”
More to come from Fabric in 2024
Morav said Fabric’s recently announced partnership with Maersk as its first anchor customer in the U.S. is just the first of several with large retailers in North America and Europe. Maersk has already deployed a site with the multi-size tote feature.
Fabric also expects to file more patents, said Morav.
“The company is poised to have a really significant 2024,” he said. “We crossed a chasm over the 18 months of our pivot, and we see ourselves very actively competing in the ASRS market, from which we’re getting good feedback.”
In addition to last week’s National Retail Federation (NRF) show, Fabric plans to attend or exhibit at Manifest, MODEX, Shoptalk, and LogiMAT, Morav said.