China’s de­liv­ery­men face ro­bot revo­lu­tion as de­mand soars

Top de­liv­ery firms have be­gun test­ing ro­bots and au­to­mated sort­ing lines ahead of Singles Day, an an­nual on­line dis­count shop­ping ex­trav­a­ganza which could see 1.5 bil­lion pack­ages shipped around the coun­try

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Business -

AT BEI­JING’S sprawl­ing Ren­min Univer­sity of China, two shiny new couri­ers dart through throngs of stu­dents to de­liver pack­ages through­out the day. But they’re not typ­i­cal Chi­nese de­liv­ery­men. Bright red, grey and black, they are the ro­bot post­men of the fu­ture, and are con­trolled from a com­mand cen­tre 40 kms (25 miles) away by e-com­merce gi­ant The ro­bots are among tech­nolo­gies rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing China’s vast de­liv­ery in­dus­try, which is strug­gling to keep pace with 50 per­cent an­nual growth in pack­age vol­umes amid staff short­ages, tight com­pe­ti­tion and de­clin­ing mar­gins. China’s top de­liv­ery firms such as S.F. Ex­press, BEST Inc and ZTO Ex­press have be­gun test­ing ro­bots and au­to­mated sort­ing lines ahead of China’s Singles Day on Satur­day - an an­nual on­line dis­count shop­ping ex­trav­a­ganza which could see 1.5 bil­lion pack­ages shipped around the coun­try.

“Wages are go­ing up and the tech­nol­ogy cost is ac­tu­ally go­ing down,” said Bao Yan, di­rec­tor of strat­egy at JD Lo­gis­tics, which man­ages par­ent’s lo­gis­tics net­work. “We own the full process... we want to have au­to­ma­tion through­out, from the ful­fill­ment cen­ter to trans­porta­tion and for last-mile de­liv­ery.”

To be sure, the ro­bot revo­lu­tion isn’t unique to China. U.S. on­line re­tailer Ama­zon has staffed ware­houses with thou­sands of ro­bots since 2014, help­ing cut op­er­at­ing costs and de­liv­ery times. How­ever, Chi­nese in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives say they are leapfrog­ging Ama­zon as they make use of and de­velop these tech­nolo­gies at a faster pace, with many in­vest­ing pro­ceeds from stock mar­ket listings last year.

The ex­per­i­ments tak­ing place across China are wide-rang­ing. BEST, and Kaola, an e-com­merce unit of video games publisher NetEase Inc, are us­ing ro­bots that can shift goods weigh­ing up to 1,000 kgs (1 tonne) across ware­house floors to help hu­man pack­ers. On­line re­tail­ers Alibaba, and S.F. Ex­press are in­vest- ing in drone pro­grams they hope will one day per­form so-called last-mile de­liv­er­ies, es­pe­cially in hard to reach ru­ral ar­eas. Oth­ers, like ZTO Ex­press, have rolled out au­to­mated sort­ing lines that can self-scan and tip pack­ages into bags ear­marked for dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tions lined up on ei­ther side of the belt. ZTO’S Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer James Guo said au­to­mated lines, which cost about 4 mil­lion yuan ($602,419) apiece, can sort up to 25,000 pack­ages an hour with 40 work­ers, ver­sus a man­u­ally-op­er­ated line that can sort 4,000 pack­ages with 120 work­ers. ZTO has 44 of these au­to­mated lines.

“By sav­ing the an­nual salaries of 70-80 work­ers, I can eas­ily get back my in­vest­ment in one line,” Guo said. Other ex­ec­u­tives said wages in the in­dus­try, which has about 3 mil­lion work­ers, were ris­ing by dou­ble-digit per­cent­ages an­nu­ally, out­pac­ing China’s eco­nomic growth.

The shift is rip­pling down through the broader in­dus­try, lo­gis­tics sup­pli­ers say, driv­ing or­ders for and re­search into new tech­nolo­gies and plac­ing new de­mands on ware­house land­lords.

At one end of the chain are ro­bot­ics and tech­nol­ogy firms such as Qing­dao Kengic Au­to­ma­tion Equip­ment Co Ltd and Hikvi­sion , which say they are part­ner­ing with lo­gis­tics com­pa­nies to de­velop new sys­tems. China’s gov­ern­ment has been both boon and bane to the speed of the shift, other ex­ec­u­tives said. Bei­jing has en­cour­aged the frag­mented lo­gis­tics in­dus­try to mod­ernise and be­come more ef­fi­cient. The “Made in China 2025” ini­tia­tive to up­grade the coun­try’s man­u­fac­tur­ing base has also spurred growth in ro­bots. But the gov­ern­ment main­tains tight con­trol of its airspace, hold­ing back the wide­spread in­tro­duc­tion of drones, which many firms see as a po­ten­tial last­mile de­liv­ery so­lu­tion. Few firms have been granted drone li­censes by the avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tor. Still, in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives con­fi­dently pre­dict more parts of the sup­ply chain will see ma­chines re­place hu­man work­ers.

Em­ploy­ees sort pack­ages ahead of Singles Day in Huaibei, China’s eastern An­hui province.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Turkey

© PressReader. All rights reserved.