Acme: Taking ‘Made in the UAE Automation’ Global

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The origins of Acme can be traced back to 1975 when the company was founded in Dubai by visionary Indian entrepreneur Nambron Narayanan. His goal then was modest—to support the needs of the local logistics industry by providing manual shelving and storage solutions and other industrial hardware products. The home-grown company has since expanded radically over the past 47 years.

Since then, it’s vast range of sophisticated industrial hardware products and solutions for warehouse and factory automation have evolved with changes in the industry, while maintaining and staying the course of adhering to its core values of supporting the regional industry and retaining its family business ethos. The focus was on working as a system integrator and introducing new international technology to the region.

The turning point occurred in 2018. That year triggered the biggest transition undertaken by Acme when the company set up a full-scale manufacturing facility in Jebel Ali that focuses on designing, manufacturing, and installing a wide range of automation systems including complex warehouse as well as factory automation solutions. The baton has since passed on to a new generation with Navin Narayan, Founder-CEO, now at the helm of the company. He spoke exclusively and expansively to Global Supply Chain on a wide-ranging interview for the Acme Intralog lead story.

Global Supply Chain (GSC): How is automation and digitalization getting indispensable in the present context fuelled in part in a pandemic-ridden era?

Navin Narayan (NN): Clearly, the pandemic has opened the eyes of stakeholders in the region. They now understand how dependent a lot of industries are still on manual labour for their production as well as partners for robots and collaborative robots themselves as well as grippers and applicators and AI vision that complement our offering and intralogistics operations.

When the workforce had to be reduced to implement safety protocols or in cases where there was work stoppage due to contracting Covid-19, while demand for many industries was at all-time highs, the financial repercussions were often grave. The adoption of automation and digitalisation of processes therefore has seen a drastic increase. Even though the pandemic has waned, it is still difficult to get manpower that is keen to work in such environments. Most companies start with simple solutions and scale up over time as they, seeing the positive effects and are able to gain savings due to the new systems.

GSC: Given growth in demand, challenges in supply chain and a changed working ambience wrought by Covid, do you see a greater focus and orientation towards technology going forward in the logistics and supply chain sectors?

NN: I believe the focus on technology will always continue to increase in the future, however, the type of technology the logistics and supply chain sectors are looking for, will vary. We currently see an increasing demand for Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems both for pallet and tote handling, which drastically enhances visibility and traceability of available stock among other benefits.

Also, more and more operations are looking for automated or semi-automated order picking solutions as well as sortation systems. Order fulfillment is one of the most labour-intense processes in most businesses, while not being a value-adding one. Modular automation solutions that can be bolted on as the business grows, are expected to find a niche market with start-ups and SME companies that have a vision for growth.

GSC: How do you perceive the role of Acme in this transformed ecosystem?

NN: Since the beginning, Acme has transformed with the changing demands of our customers, and this is our ethos we firmly believe in. We have established a strong standing in the ecosystem and are able to deliver on different scales of requirements with a quick turnaround: we have built a portfolio that offer both smaller, scalable solutions to customers that are not yet ready for complex automation as well as fully automated turnkey solutions for businesses that are ready to embark on a larger scale transformation.

GSC: How is the exponential surge in e-commerce over the last say three years impacting the financials for Acme?

NN: We have seen a similar trend in our books – the e-commerce sector has increasingly contributed to our revenue and now generates over 40% of our turnover. Both existing and new customers have been rethinking their processes and are looking for ways to enhance their productivity and efficiency. Businesses have understood the need to implement automation to deliver a truly seamless omni-channel experience to their customers.

GSC: What are your short and / or long term expansion plans for the region?

NN: We have been focusing on our geographical expansion in the last few years and have meanwhile opened operations on two more continents with our offices in India, Germany and since beginning of this year also in Colombia in Latin America. Within each of the new regions we are working on increasing our market share and bringing our technology to a wider range of customers. Besides we are focusing on expanding our product range as well as our team to keep up with the increasing demand. Our R&D department is always looking for the most efficient ways to solve our customers’ challenges. We are developing new systems that will offer suitable and scalable solutions.

GSC: What opportunities in store and challenges do you foresee going forward?

NN: As for the challenges, the current semiconductor shortage is one that effects many industries including automation. It has become harder to source key elements which bears the risk of delays in project deliveries. Particularly in the UAE, we have seen great opportunities in the push for the ‘Make it in the Emirates’ initiative by our government as well as the increasing appetite for Industry 4.0 solutions across the whole region.

GSC: What trends do you foresee in intra-logistics automation for the region?

NN: I believe the recent growth of e-commerce combined with the increasing impatience of consumers, who expect to receive orders as fast as possible, will lead to the rise of micro-fulfillment centres. More businesses see the benefit to being closer to their customers and there with able to better react to their expectations. Through automation they can further enhance their operational efficiency. There is also a growing market for modular automation solutions for smaller operations. When warehouse space is limited and expensive, vertical storage systems can be a good start in automating processes.

GSC: Is Acme planning to take on new partnerships and representations— perhaps mergers and acquisitions?

NN: We are always open to building new partnerships and representing global brands that we believe would add value in the regions we are operating in. Recently our focus has been heavily on robotics as we see the high potential these solutions have for a wide range of industries. We have great partners for robots and collaborative robots themselves as well as grippers and applicators and AI vision that complement our offering and expertise and therefore allow us to serve our customers better. In automation there is no one size fits all solution, hence, we remain on the look-out for innovative products and build partnerships when we see a long-term benefit for our customers.

GSC: How big is the Acme footprint in the food and cold chain sectors?

NN: We have worked with some of the largest companies in each of these industries in the GCC on both small and large projects. One of the major food & beverage players has appointed us to build multiple new warehouses for them in the recent years, automating their entire supply chain in these facilities.

We have completed a sortation facility for one of the largest supermarket chains earlier this year, to handle fresh fruits and vegetables. With our system, the customer is now able to handle perishable goods faster and distribute these more efficiently and accurately to their retail stores as well as end customers ordering online while at the same time minimising the amount of manpower needed on the shop floor. We also delivered an automated kitting centre for a humanitarian agency in Dubai that helps them prepare much needed pharmaceutical as well as emergency response kits to disaster hit areas globally.

GSC: How is Acme currently faring thus far in 2022 and how does that compare with 2021 and what is your outlook for the remainder of this year?

NN: 2022 has been an extension of the previous year. Our order books remain strong as we still see customers focusing on transforming their operations and focusing on implementing industry 4.0 solutions in the region. With the added emphasis on digitalization and improving process efficiency, customers are increasing their focus on end of line solutions as well as intralogistics automation.

Though supply chain disruptions with regard to semiconductors do plague the industry, we have worked closely with our strategic partners to ensure that the delays are limited and that we are able to deliver on projects within the project timelines.

GSC: Make the case for Acme; what sets Acme apart and what are your USPs (Unique Selling Propositions)?

NN: Acme is the largest warehouse automation developer and integrator in the MENA region. We are the only integrator with local manufacturing as well as an on-ground R&D department, where we continuously work on new products and solutions as well as customised approaches to specific needs.

We have a proven track record of reliable and highly durable products with a growing list of references. I believe, our most important USP is our highly experienced, multi-cultural team. Our company culture is based on family values, and we are proud to have a team of highly committed, solution-oriented experts in their respective fields working closely together driving our success.

Part II To get up close personal and get the low down on the company, Global Supply Chain also conducted supplementary interviews with the top company quartet comprising Atanas Khagerian, VP Sales, MENA; Uli Pausch, Sales Director Europe, Acme Intralog Europe GmbH; Jaideep Bauskar, Head of India Operations, Acme Intralog India Pvt. Ltd and Manuel López, Regional Sales Director – Latam, Acme Intralog Latam S.A.S. The following are the transcripts. Interview with Atanas Khagerian, Vice President Sales, MENA, Acme Intralog.

GSC: For Acme it all started in Dubai in the UAE. As the official based on its home turf, how significant is the MENA, the region you oversee for Acme?

Atanas Khagerian (AK): Over the past 47 years since inception, we have gained great trust and respect within the MENA region and developed a huge base of customers. We are keen to continue supporting our existing and new customers in the region with our unique products and services. We see a high potential for us in our home region. Our customers appreciate the benefit of Acme’s local manufacturing capabilities and our mission to deliver customised solutions that are tailored to the needs of the region.

GSC: How does the MENA region stack up vis-a vis the other global theatres of operation from a performance perspective?

AK: The MENA region has a different economic growth pace compared with other global markets. The number of on-going mega projects and the upcoming project plans are huge, we are very confident that our expansion plan is in the right place and on the right track and that the MENA region has the vision and the ability to invest in the latest automation technology. The shortage of skilled manpower in the region is one of the fundamental triggers for automation in the logistics industry.

GSC: Make the advocacy case for Acme’s ‘Make it in the UAE’ mantra?

AK: We are proud to be a homegrown business and we have heavily invested to develop our capability to design and manufacture advanced automation solutions here in the UAE. Having operated in this market for as long as we have, we believe this is the best location for us to support the specific requirements of the regional industry as well as globally with custom solutions. Besides, the infrastructure the UAE government provides and initiatives such as ‘Operation 300bn’ and ‘Make it in the Emirates’, have been fostering our growth and supporting our expansion to other global markets.

GSC: What Acme product lines and range are manufactured in Dubai?

AK: Our team is manufacturing all types of conveyors, including roller and belt conveyors and accessories, a range of AS/ RS, such as ‘Mother and Child’ shuttles, miniloads, stacker cranes, high bay stacker crane and tote shuttles. We also manufacture and integrate robotic palletisation as well as end of line solutions for the logistics and manufacturing industry.

GSC: What advantages are there generically in manufacturing products and processes indigenously in the UAE?

AK: As a local manufacturer, we have strong design and consulting capability based out of our Dubai and Riyadh facility. This enables us to provide quick and accurate solutions that cater to our customers’ requirements. With a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Jebel Ali, we are able to manufacture to European specification and CE standards at affordable prices with short lead times and therefore fast project delivery times. In addition to this our large after sales team in the region can support our customers with life cycle maintenance as well as operation support so that they are never left without support once the system is handed over.

GSC: How well received are Acme products in other markets?

AK: Having 47 years of presence in the Middle East, customers in the region trust the products and solutions offered by Acme. This has provided us the track record and references that global customers are looking for. By ensuring the quality and reliability of our systems in addition to conforming with global certification requirements, we can build confidence in the eyes of our global customers. They know that they are in safe hands with solutions from Acme!

GSC: What are your expansion products for the region? Do you also have another GCC country in mind to opening manufacturing facilities?

AK: At the moment we would like to centralise manufacturing here in Jebel Ali to ensure better control of production and delivery. Meanwhile, we now have a service and maintenance hub that is staffed with experienced engineers and service technicians in Saudi Arabia. This will help us to warrant on time support to our existing as well as upcoming customers in Saudi Arabia.

PART III Interview with Uli Pausch, Sales Director Europe, Acme Intralog Europe GmbH

GSC: How significant is the European continent for Acme?

Uli Pausch (UP): With almost 50 countries and a population of more than 750 million people, Europe is the third most populous continent in the world. Considering only the European Union (EU) within Europe, the EU is worldwide on second place in view of shares at world trade exports and trading inside the European continent. This level of industrialisation and the acceptance of automation within the intralogistics space makes it a very attractive region for Acme.

GSC: What challenges do you encounter in the region and what are the opportunities ahead?

UP: Within the last year Acme Intralog Europe was facing and fighting two major challenges as a newly founded branch: the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent increase of gas / fossil fuel prices, especially in Europe. However, these developments have shown most industrial companies clearly what they need to do to prepare for similar challenges in the future – as material, skill, and staff shortage are more real than ever: Implementing intelligent industrial and warehouse automation operations become crucial to remain competitive. With Acme being the leading solution provider in the Middle East for such solutions, we see a great opportunity to now support European companies with our knowledge, technology, and experience to help them eliminate bottlenecks in their operation and create more efficiencies.

GSC: What trends are you seeing for automation in logistics on the European continent?

UP: In the future, Europe is bound to have rising personnel costs paired with skills & staff shortage. This coupled with the need for more efficient internal processes, larger SKU portfolios and little available land will lead companies to further invest in automation solutions in logistics. We also see more and more companies working or considering working with ‘Industry 5.0’ solutions in Europe, such as human-robot collaboration, cognitive systems, mass customisation, etc.

This means ‘Industry 4.0’ (IoT, networking, machine learning, etc.) have become a standard for most, pushing simple automation within the last decade. ‘Industry 5.0’ implies a steady increase in new, elegant, and demanding requirements, challenging automation companies to continuously up their game.

At Acme we are proud to have a highly talented R&D department who are committed to come up with customised solutions, combining new technology with our standard repertoire as required.

GSC: What makes Acme stand out of the clutter in Europe? UP: One of our key priorities is customer focus; supporting customers to find the best automation solution to achieve their desired operational efficiency goals. With our high quality and service standards as well as fast project delivery times, we are well equipped to meet the needs of European customers.

GSC: Which Acme solutions do you see highest demand for in Europe?

UP: Automated Storage and Retrieval systems are seeing highest demand currently. This includes stacker cranes, mini loads and mother and child systems.

PART IV: Interview with Jaideep Bauskar, Head of India Operations, Acme Intralog India Pvt. Ltd

GSC: How rapidly is automation in logistics increasing in the India?

Jaideep Bauskar (JB): Automation in Logistics and related industries is growing with a CAGR of 8-10% in India. We have seen a drastic increase particularly in e-commerce order fulfillment automation as well as AMR and AGV based automation.

GSC: What potential do you foresee for Acme in India?

JB: The Indian market has a strong base of manufacturing industries, including FMCG, pharma, white goods, automotive, heavy engineering and more. These sectors are traditionally prone to automation and offer great potential for us. Particularly with government initiatives such as ‘Make in India’, we see the demand for automation further increasing for the manufacturing industries. The e-commerce industry has also grown rapidly, which is another high potential sector for us.

GSC: What are the opportunities and challenges for Acme in India?

JB: India is a highly competitive market when it comes to the automation field. Entering as a relatively new brand with a headquarter abroad, we had faced the typical challenges. We have set up a complete, albeit lean organisation in India to be able to support our customer’s on-ground to provide the same level of service our customers in MENA receive. Our close collaboration with our headquarters, the expertise across multiple markets and industries provides us with the opportunity to compete with local players on big projects, which a typical start-up would not be able to do.

GSC: What trends are you seeing for automation in logistics in your region?

JB: Nowadays, we are seeing that end users in the industry are looking to go vertically to increase the storage capacity, while focusing on cost effective and scalable solutions that are capable of providing accurate and high throughput order processing. 3PL businesses in India are now expanding their services to the manufacturing industries and are providing value added services such as re-packing, labeling, assembly, etc. This has further necessitated the need for automation within the warehouse.

GSC: What is the level of receptivity for ‘Made in the UAE’ Acme products in India?

JB: We see an acceptable level of receptivity in the market for products ‘Made in the UAE’, however, that depends of course on the products. In our sector, the key drivers for deciding for a vendor are quality, price and of course how well a solution is meeting the customer’s requirements. In 2022, India and UAE have signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which provides the benefit of reduced or zero import duties between the two countries and this has helped our pricing become even more competitive in India.

GSC: What are among the most popular Acme product range in India?

JB: ASRS (for pallets & totes), radio shuttles, Mother and Child systems, robotic palletisation and various robotic applications as well as complete solutions for material flow are popular Acme product ranges. Besides, our USP is our ability to provide tailor-made solutions as per the customers’ needs and that gives us an edge in the market.

PART V Interview with Manuel López, Regional Sales Director–Latam, Acme Intralog Latam S.A.S., Colombia

GSC: How significant is the LATAM continent for Acme and Colombia where you are based?

Manuel López (ML): Latin America is a region with constant growth and a lot of potential to explore as most organisations have turned their focus towards automating their processes. During the critical months of the pandemic in Latin America, we have seen a slight growth in the implementation of new technologies in storage and picking solutions, particularly in sectors such as Pharmaceutical, Food & Beverage and Fashion. We are not oblivious to the importance that this will have for Acme in the coming years. Colombia is projected to have the highest growth in Latin America over the coming years. Due to its geographical location and air connectivity with other countries, we believe it will play an important role for our growth and performance in the region.

GSC: What challenges do you encounter in the region and what are the opportunities ahead?

ML: Like for any new company that launches in a new market, there are several challenges, but to mention a few: Customs and political restrictions in the ports of some of our regional markets as well as the political and economic situation some countries are facing, which also affects currency exchange rates. As a new brand in Latin America, we are still bringing in awareness of our solution portfolio and providing technical consultancy to businesses that are keen to explore automation.

As for the opportunities, our ability to develop competitive solutions that fit our customers’ needs in terms of space, performance, price, and after-sales service will set us apart. The experience of our team makes us more competitive and attractive to the customer. Our speed of response when it comes to developing a concept, providing an offer and right to manufacturing and delivering the solution sets us apart from other global players.

GSC: Which are among the top three performing countries on the continent?

ML: With regard to businesses investing in warehouse automation we have seen Mexico, Brazil and of course Colombia being the top three performing countries. As the industrial base in regional countries grow, we expect that there would be an increase in demand for intralogistics solutions coming for neighbouring countries too.

GSC: What trends are you seeing for automation in logistics on the LATAM continent?

ML: We are seeing a demand for High Bay Warehouses fitted with stacker cranes and mother and child solutions to handle industrial pallets. Lately, there has also been an increased demand for picking and sortation solutions from the e-commerce industry as this market begins to heat up.

GSC: What is the appetite for UAE manufactured Acme products in LATAM?

ML: Latin American customers give high value to quality and reliability. Systems manufactured by Acme at our Dubai facility are known for being reliable, state of the art and built to European specifications. Therefore, there has been a growing appetite for ‘Made in the Emirates’ Acme solutions in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Peru.

GSC: What prospects do you foresee for Acme in LATAM?

ML: It is hard to pin a number to our expected growth as we only begun operations early this year. However, our expectations are high given the big appetite for scalable automation solutions in the region. Our solution portfolio is in line with the needs of the region, and this gives us enormous confidence in our ability to help local industries in their journey towards intralogistics automation. Customers in the region value the quality, reliability, and experience that Acme brings to Latin America.

GSC: What are the fast-moving Acme products in LATAM?

ML: Our core product portfolio for Latin America is pallet handling solutions such as conveyors, stacker cranes and high-density mother and child solutions. We have also seen demand for sortation solutions increase in the region as the e-commerce market heats up. We also provide conventional solutions, such as racking and multi-level mezzanines for retailers and manufacturers.

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