ACME’s enables businesses to improve operational efficiencies of its customers, automating the handling of intralogistics functions and providing them end-to-end visibility and control of their material flow.
The stakes are high for the Logistics & Supply Chain sector and its efficacy and capabilities hinge on technology and innovation. Thus, more and more companies are looking to materials handling automation to improve processes, streamline shipping operations, and lower supply chain operating costs. That is a given and indispensable for the industry’s survivability.
In a warehouse environment, material handling is commonly defined as the movement, protection, storage and control of materials and products throughout manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, consumption and disposal.
The process incorporates a variety of manual, semi-automated and automated equipment and systems that allow the supply chain to work efficiently. When used properly, material handling can improve multiple systems, processes, methodologies, customer service standards and inventory management.
Acme Intralog is one of the leading material handling & warehouse automation solution providers in the Middle East, developing tailor-made approaches for complex needs. Founded in 1975, Acme provides bespoke systems and process optimisations solutions for customers across multiple industry verticals through bespoke sortation systems; case storage and retrieval solutions while providing maintenance support throughout the GCC.
Following Acme’s participation as a key exhibitor in the biannual Materials Handling Middle East 2021 Exhibition staged in Dubai in early November, Navin Narayan, CEO, spoke exclusively to Global Supply Chain on an array of subjects ranging from the company’s current product offerings, the introductions of new ‘Colour-Pick’ technology, how e-Commerce is driving his business and expansion plans for the future.
Global Supply Chain (GSC): Briefly encapsulate the profile of Acme and how do you continue to stay relevant in a highly volatile sector?
Navin Narayan (NN): Acme Intralog is one of the leading material handling & warehouse automation solution providers in the Middle East. We develop tailor-made solutions for customers across multiple industries including retail, e-commerce, FMCG, food & beverage as well as pharmaceuticals.
One of our key advantages is that we are rooted in the UAE. Over the years we have continuously adapted and extended our offering based on our regional customers’ requirements.
We have built a full-fledged design and manufacturing facility in Jebel Ali Free Zone, which allows us to be highly responsive and develop new solutions right here in the UAE that are in tune with the needs of the regional market.
GSC: How has automation and digitalization evolved in a pandemic ridden era for the logistics / materials handling / automation sectors?
NN: The pandemic has definitely accelerated the adoption of automation solutions. Our region has been relying heavily on manual labour for material handling and warehouse operations which were challenged as Covid-19 hit us all.
New regulations for social distancing and drastically increased customer demand when it comes to delivery accuracy and speed made it impossible to stick to the status quo. To remain competitive and to reduce operational costs, increased efficiency is key and this cannot be achieved by merely adding more human resources.
Our customers across various industries needed to implement new systems that can optimise their throughput or handling speed fast in line with their customer demand.
This is where digitalisation comes at play as well, particularly for retail, e-commerce and groceries. The last mile has increasingly been digitalised for these sectors since last year in line with the end consumers looking for an easy process for ordering from home.
Automation of the intralogistics process helps to significantly improve order and inventory accuracy, reduce order processing times at the same time substantially reduces the costs of order fulfillment.
GSC: Acme recently introduced ‘Colour-Pick’ technology to upgrade warehouse efficiency. Please elaborate.
NN: Limited storage space and increasing, yet fluctuating demand are common challenges particularly for the e-commerce industry. Since the pandemic, this sector started struggling even more to meet their customer’s expectation on delivery times.
Kardex Remstar’s Colour-Picking is a scalable, pick-to-light solution that guides multiple operators through the picking process using coloured pick-and put-lights allowing businesses to add or reduce labour resources to meet current order demand.
By doing so, customers can scale their demand and avoid the need to build extensions, new facilities, or to outsource. Overall, Colour Picking ensures higher throughput and maximum labour efficiency in the warehouse with up to 70% space, and a ROI of less than 18 months. It is a team picking philosophy with high throughput and dynamic workflows. Using multiple workers in one zone, multiple batches of orders can be filled at one time to achieve higher throughput.
A further advantage is that a ‘Colour Pick’ solution can be easily implemented quickly without needing years of planning and commissioning.
GSC: Do you see a greater focus and orientation towards technology going forward?
NN: Businesses in the Middle East have been a bit slow in adopting technology in form of automation solutions in comparison to the rest of the world. However, with the pandemic increasing manpower costs as well squeezing overall operational margins most businesses have begun to realize the value of implementing automation technologies in their production and distribution lines.
We have seen a considerable uptick in customers implementing Industry 4.0 solutions and are confident of this momentum continuing over the coming years.
Besides, government initiatives such as operation 300bn and Dubai Smart City will further push for technology adoption across all industries as businesses focus on improving their bottom line by reducing operational costs.
GSC: How is the surge in e-commerce changing the fortunes / bottom-line for Acme?
NN: We have seen the E-commerce industry in the GCC grow at about 36% over the last year, which meant two changes: increased order volume and shorter delivery windows. Recent studies show that over 96% shoppers expect to receive an ordered product within the same day, if not the next 30 minutes, while in 2019 consumers were fine with 4-5 days delivery windows.
Most e-commerce companies and logistics operators have initially focused on improving their last mile service to accommodate the rising demand. Now that this has improved substantially, businesses are now focusing on enhancing their intralogistics operations.
For us at Acme this means a rising demand for scalable, high speed order fulfilment solutions, where technology helps improve accuracy and cost efficiency. And businesses are increasingly looking for local partners who can tailor a solution that caters to regional nuances.
Currently over 30% of our projects are catering to e-commerce fulfilment solutions for regional and international players who are expanding their regional fulfilment capacities.
GSC: Expand on the importance of factory floor safety solutions from an Acme perspective?
NN: Studies show that every financial resource a company invests in health and safety in the workplace generates a return of 2.2 times more. We have always tried to emphasise the importance of safer factory floors.
Every kind of automation we provide helps increase safety to some extent. Our solutions are inherently designed to provide added operator safety as well as product safety in terms of minimized product damage too.
We provide robots and vacuum handling systems that help with ergonomic lifting of heavy objects, reducing potential musculoskeletal injuries as well as accidents that manual handling may cause. By using automated or semi-automated solutions businesses can reduce injuries caused by repetitive tasks on the shopfloor and use valuable manpower resource on other value adding activities.
In this region, we have also seen an increase in demand for factory workplace safety products like fences and lock systems. Through our partnerships with Axelent and Pizzato we are able to cater to such needs and provide state-of the art modular industrial fencing and safety devices such as safety switches, hinge switches and anti-tampering devices with RFID technology to further assist in making environments where man and machine are working together safer.
GSC: What are your short and / or long-term expansion plans for the region?
NN: Our core focus at the moment is to be closer to our customers. We are moving ahead with setting up operations in Saudi Arabia to be able to provide maintenance support for our existing customers as well as new projects that we are currently executing in Saudi Arabia.
We have recently started operations in India and look forward positively to participating in the fast growing Indian market by providing automated intralogistics solutions that are designed and manufactured here in Dubai for the Indian market.
In addition to this, through our sales office in Germany we look forward to delivering EU specification automation components to European System Integrators that are looking for reliable high quality equipment.
All the while, we will continue to invest in our R&D facility here in Jebel Ali to develop new and innovative solutions that are designed keeping the region in mind.
GSC: What opportunities in store and challenges do you foresee going forward?
NN: One of the key challenges we see in the near term comes from the global supply chain bottleneck that has exacerbated due to the pandemic. In addition to this, the global shortage of chipsets is putting substantial pressure on manufacturers when it comes to delivery of solutions to the market. We hope these concerns subside soon and that the global supply chain can go back to smooth operations.
The greater push to providing omnichannel offerings by retailers will definitely increase demand for automation in warehouses and an increased focus on Industry 4.0 solutions.
Furthermore, with an increased focus on industrialization in the region from the government such as Operation 300bn, the UAE’s Industrial Strategy, as well as Vision 2030 of Saudi Arabia, we expect added demand from manufacturing industries for Automated Material Handling Solutions.
GSC: What trends do you foresee in intra-logistics automation for the region?
NN: Over the last few years, larger businesses have begun to invest in intra-logistics automation to improve operational efficiencies. Automation was primarily a matter of scale. However, with modular and scalable solutions now available and manufactured regionally, we see a greater demand for warehouse automation coming from small and medium sized distribution centers.
In addition to this, with the improvement in last mile solutions there will be a greater demand for micro-fulfillment centers that cater to pharmaceutical as well as grocery retail.
There will also be added focus on goods to person picking solutions that can reduce order fulfillment time as well as costs.
GSC: In June 2020 Acme Intralog became an exclusive distributor of Leuze sensor products in the region. How is the brand faring?
NN: Leuze has an excellent range of industry leading sensor products that cater to a wide range of manufacturing as well as intralogistics applications. By partnering with Leuze, we are not only able to support regional businesses with spare part requirements for their operational machinery, but also able to provide complex solutions with special focus on intralogistics and packaging industries.
With excellent support from the team at Leuze, we have been able to work with factories in the region and provide them specialized automation solutions that require precise and robust sensing technology.
GSC: Is Acme planning to take on new partnerships and representations?
NN: We are always looking for strategic partnerships that allow us to enable regional businesses to thrive and improve their processes.
We have recently started a partnership with the collaborative robot manufacturer Hanwha and OnRobot, who are market leaders when it comes to grippers for collaborative robots.
That being said, we are also more heavily investing in our own R&D and introducing more products manufactured in the UAE as this allows us to react faster to our customer’s needs and create customized solutions that take into consideration regional requirements.
GSC: What is the Acme message at Materials Handling ME (2021)?
NN: Following the great UAE government initiative, I guess our main message this year is ‘Make it in the Emirates’. We are focusing heavier on showcasing products that have been developed and manufactured by our capable team of engineers, software developers and technicians. Besides, we will also continue showcasing the latest technology from some of our global partners. It’ll be worth your while visiting our stands, that I can assure you.
GSC: How is Acme currently faring and how does that compare with 2020 and what is your outlook for the remainder of 2021?
NN: With the set up of our R&D and manufacturing facility in 2019 in Jebel Ali, we have seen a steady growth in order book for warehouse automation solutions. Both 2020 as well as 2021 was exceptional in terms of revenue growth.
We see the remainder of 2021 as well as 2022 having the same upward tick when it comes to new exciting projects. We are confident that the current momentum with regard to adoption of smart technologies by regional businesses will continue in the long term.
GSC: What is your vision for Acme going forward?
NN: Our vision for the past years has been to enable regional businesses to radically optimise their manufacturing, supply chain & intralogistics through cost-efficient automation solutions that are fit for purpose and drive better revenue generation.
I do feel even stronger about this vision for the future with new Industry 4.0 technologies evolving and our capabilities to cater to custom requests better every year. Being rooted in this region as long as we have, we have built strong connections with regional customers and want to continue helping them and our region to thrive.
Our mission is to help support businesses as they incorporate smart technologies and to drive the fourth industrial revolution in the region.