Catch commits to AMR, extends Körber partnership

Catch Group has strengthened its partnership with Körber Supply Chain and will roll out the largest deployment of AMRs in ANZ at its new distribution centre in Sydney.

As an early adopter of flexible and mobile automation, Catch partnered with international technology group Körber Supply Chain to deploy more than 100 autonomous mobile robots at its Victorian distribution centre last year.

After seeing significant growth throughout 2020, Catch will grow its logistics network by building a new fulfilment centre in Moorebank, south-west Sydney.

The 45,000 sqm facility will be Catch’s first distribution centre (DC) outside of Victoria and is the third DC in Australia for the leading online retailer. According to Richard Whetton, head of fulfilment at Catch, this investment is essential to Catch being able to meet growing consumer demand throughout the nation.

“Over the past 12 months, the needle has moved. Customers expect their goods much faster than they did before and we simply cannot compete by having all of our product in Melbourne. We need to be closer to the customer and this new facility in Sydney is our first step on this journey,” Whetton says.

As the site is a Brownfield site, the Körber automation solution was a perfect fit for the retailer as it is modular and can be moved if needed.

“We’re going heavy with our commitment to AMR. At our new site in Moorebank, we will roll out 368 of the same robots that we have been utilising in Melbourne. For us, this solution really is the best-in-class worldwide and helps us to service our customers as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Whetton says.

“This large-scale mobile automation commitment from Catch really is a testament to how the market is changing and how leading retailers are starting to look at automation. We’re starting to see a real shift in the retail space as organisations turn to new age technology solutions to improve efficiency and speed to market. This new site for Catch will be a regional showpiece for what is possible in mobile automation,” Nishan Wijemanne, managing director APAC at Körber Supply Chain says.

Matching growth with investment

While Catch has been using automation for a long time, the e-commerce player has been on an accelerated commitment to flexible and mobile automated solutions over the past year.

“We’ve been using various fixed automation since 2014, but in the last 12 months we have shifted our focus to flexible, mobile automation,” Whetton says.

Traditional fixed automation usually requires long lead times and a high level of capital upfront, and there’s also the challenge of acquiring expertise in-house to operate and repair this kind of highly technical machinery.

For Whetton, another challenge with large-scale fixed automation is deployment times. “You need to look at a three-year horizon before you even start to use it. Furthermore, once it’s installed it’s not very flexible. When you start exploring these kinds of solutions you need to have a very good understanding of what your business will look like in three years’ time, and in this current climate, not many people do.”

He says that if you don’t have perfect vision of what the future looks like, AMR is a great solution as it allows you to expand, change and move.

A further advantage of AMR is that it’s quick to deploy, Catch was able to roll out more than 100 robots at its Truganina site in Melbourne last year in less than three months. It’s also highly configurable.

“One thing we’ve seen is that the average size of what we’re shipping has got bigger, and I’ve heard this is common across the industry. The great thing about AMR is we have already configured the technology we deployed last year to cater for this shift in demand. This is something you definitely can’t do with fixed automation,” Whetton says.

From a financial perspective, with flexible automation you can match your investment to your growth.

“When you think about fixed automation, it’s really expensive. It’s a high capital cost and you have to commit a huge investment well ahead of when you will actually start to utilise the equipment. You also want that investment to last 7-10 years, so you’re essentially trying to anticipate what your business will look like in 10-13 years’ time. But with AMR, you can take smaller steps to match your growth. Therefore, you take less risks and deploy less capital,” Whetton explains.

Automating the goods-in-process

In addition to the AMRs, Catch will also be the first business in the region to roll out a new solution from Körber’s growing automation portfolio.

The Geek+ Double Deep Bin-to-Person C200M robot has just been launched in Australia by Körber, and is the world’s first extended depth, bin to person robot. The robot is designed to operate in narrow aisles, reach new heights, and increase storage capacity.

“With the rise of e-commerce, the logistics and supply chain landscape has fundamentally changed, and Catch was on the lookout for an innovative goods-receiving solution that could be nimble and adaptable to address the constantly changing order profile,” Rizan Mawzoon, head of transformation at Körber Supply Chain says.

“Körber’s agile and mobile technology solutions are perfect for us as we are constantly adapting to the needs of our customers,” Whetton adds.

The robots can also adapt depending on where the demand is, if they are experiencing an increase in a certain product or line, they can very quickly change their processes and prioritise getting those products into the warehouse and ready for dispatch.

“This new technology enables Catch to take receipt of goods and have them listed online for sale within 30 to 45 minutes. E-commerce retailers like Catch don’t receive goods in pallet-loads, so they need a dynamic innovative solution to help process goods in the warehouse as quickly as possible and the C200M does exactly that,” Mawzoon says.

Creating jobs for the future

Körber has deployed a significant amount of mobile automation projects and tech innovation for some of the ANZ region’s largest and most prominent retailers including Chemist Warehouse, Kmart and Adore Beauty. With every tech deployment comes an opportunity for operators to expand their skill sets and create new career pathways.

“We’re really passionate about building skills for the future, and a large-scale deployment like this one creates some really exciting new opportunities for people to shift their skillset and move into technology and robotics, where there are many new roles being created,” Nishan Wijemanne, managing director APAC and global leader AMR/Robotics at Körber Supply Chain says.