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ACME: Bringing Automation on the front burner

Embracing automation and digitalization is increasingly perceived as the way forward in the present context to ensure viability and feasibility of logistics operations.

Simply stated, logistics automation is the process of harnessing computer software or automated machines to improve the efficiency of logistics management.

With a growing trend in pandemic times for (human) contactless operations and with social distancing the new norm, more and more companies are increasingly gravitating towards automation and mechanization of their logistics and warehouse functions

This refers to the wider tasks undertaken by supply chain management systems operated within a warehouse or distribution center. Identifying products through barcode or RFID technologies, automatic notification and real-time updates of freight are some features provided by logistics automation. Logistics automation process can help make a company more efficient and achieving better profit margins.

Like the use of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) to move products into and out of storage without human supervision or intervention.

There are other important benefits of bringing logistics automation within warehouse or distribution channels. Global Supply Chain engaged with Navin Narayan, Founder-CEO, ACME Intralog, a leader with an impressive track record in this sector, for the lowdown on the latest in the logistics and supply chain automation arena.

Global Supply Chain (GSC): To begin with, what are the core activities and specializations of the ACME Group?

Navin Narayan (NN): ACME has three major verticals–Industrial automation components, Factory Automation and Warehouse Automation. We are the largest warehouse and factory automation solution provider based in the GCC that provides comprehensive end-to-end automation solutions starting from design to manufacturing and the installation of material handling solutions as well as a dedicated 24/7 after-sales support team.

GSC: How is ACME evolving in the shadow of Covid-19?  How have your priorities and directions changed during the pandemic?

NN: With the advent of the pandemic, we have seen an increased focus on automation. Previously, businesses would attempt to increase production or delivery capabilities by using additional manpower.

This would usually be inefficient and uneconomical and under the current circumstances, not viable and non-implementable. Businesses have now begun to turn to automation to improve profitability and increase efficiency. We have increased our solution portfolio to cater to these needs for both SMEs as well as large businesses in the region.

GSC: In these times do you sense of greater gravitation by companies and LSPs (Logistics services providers) towards automation / digitalization?

NN: We see manufacturing companies, e-commerce as well as retail businesses investing in automation to cater to the dramatic change in order profiles as companies turn their focus to B2C as well as omni-channel business models.

GSC: Do you see a greater focus and orientation towards technology going forward?

NN: Businesses have understood the need to invest in technology to stay ahead of competition. Customers expect quick and accurate deliveries. This is pushing companies to focus on improving their operations behind the scene.

Most leading operators are now offering an omni-channel experience and this cannot be achieved with merely investing in the front end. A lot of change has to be configured at the back end to ensure that customer expectations are met. Automation technology in intralogistics is the need of the hour.

GSC: How is technology and automation meeting working / operational protocols in these pandemic times?

NN: One of the primary advantages of investing in hard automation technologies is that they reduce the need of having a large manpower pool. With the current restrictions brought about by the pandemic, businesses that invest in automation technologies are able to scale up and provide timely accurate order fulfillment at a fraction of the cost, without the uncertainty associated with manpower availability.

Mandatory social distancing on the shop-floor is a lot easier when a large part of the process is automated.

GSC: What are some new technologies that have emerged in recent times that are essentially a game changer for LSPs in Covid-19 times?

NN: LSPs are looking at order fulfillment solutions that help in reducing costs per pick, improving picking accuracy as well as reducing fulfillment time. Though traditionally, LSPs relied on WMS driven soft automation, there is a greater emphasis lately on solutions such as automated sortation systems, good-to-person solutions as well as ASRS systems.

These have helped them reduce the manpower needs and reduce disruptions due to Covid-19 safety regulations.

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

NN: Our current plans of expansion include setting up our life cycle service and maintenance office in Saudi Arabia as well as opening a sales office in Germany to bring us closer to our customers in the EU.

Both these regions are active markets for ACME and we expect to be on the ground during 2021.

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

NN: One of the primary challenges of the industry is the fact that new technologies are developed and adopted at a very fast pace. We will invest substantially in R&D to keep abreast of the technology curve and to ensure our solutions offering stays relevant.

GSC: An E-commerce surge as we are witnessing now is clearly a boon for your business. Is that the case with the ACME Group? Please elaborate.

NN: A large part of our current order book involves solutions that are designed to cater to E-commerce fulfillment. With the sudden surge in adoption of e-commerce in the region, businesses were left on the back-foot. As traditional distribution centers were built around the traditional model, many have had to retool existing facilities with new technologies

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

NN: We see a larger uptake for automated solutions in intralogistics. SMEs are seeing the value of small-scale vertical carousel and shuttle technologies, especially since they provide for a very quick RoI of one to two years. There is also an increased focus on automated pallet storage solutions such as AS/RS and shuttle technologies.

With added focus on omni-channel experience, there is going to be more investment in automated micro distribution solutions. We are already seeing many businesses putting money into this as they build up their fulfillment capabilities for the future.

GSC: Are you planning to take on new partnerships and representations?

NN: We are actively working with partners to bring integrated solutions such as AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles), robotics and cobots to the region. Our intention is to provide end to end solutions using new technologies in the world of material handling. We will be announcing some of these new partnerships shortly.

GSC: How big is the ACME foot print in the pharma / food / cold chain sector?

NN: A substantial part of our business focus is the pharmaceutical industry as well as food production and distribution. We provide End-of-Line manufacturing automation solutions as well as warehouse automation solutions to producers as well as distributors in the region.

GSC: How did ACME currently fare in 2020 and how does that compare with 2019?

NN: In terms of numbers, we have seen an increase of over 30% in revenue between 2019 and 2020. Last year was the most successful year for ACME. This has had a lot to do with the increased solution portfolio that we now have. Our intention is to continue adding to our portfolio in order to increase the breadth of our offerings.

GSC: What is your outlook for 2021?

NN: 2021 looks very positive and we are optimistic about the remainder of the year. At the moment our order book looks promising. We have a wide variety of projects that will go live, including a fully automated sortation facility for a leading hypermarket group, fully automated distribution centers for one of the largest retailers as well as end of line robotic palletisation systems for one of the largest dairy producers in Saudi Arabia.

We look forward to working on a few more exciting projects this year.

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