Robot and humans drive efficiency in Dutch fulfilment center

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Belgian postal service bpost group’s subsidiary Active Ants has moved into a new-build fulfilment center in Roosendaal in the Netherlands, where personnel and robots work alongside each other.

“Storage, picking and sorting are all fully automated. Employees form an efficient team with robots for the order picking. The return flow and the receipt of goods continue to be processed manually,” explained Jeroen Dekker, managing partner at Active Ants. “This mechanization leads to greater efficiency, high quality and a pleasant work environment for our employees. The setup is unique in the world.”

The harmonized system sees 65 autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) bring empty boxes to the employees, who fill them with the goods brought by other robots. The AMRs then transport the boxes to packaging machines, where they are sealed and weighed. The boxes are made as small as possible to minimize filling and empty air, and a shipping label is then attached before AMRs sort the sealed boxes by shipper.

Around 40 robots are tasked with picking goods from storage bins and bringing them to employees. According to Active Ants, the system stores up to six times more goods per square meter than traditional means and the robots generate their own energy, minimizing the use of mains power.

A box-sealing machine with integrated printer has been specially designed for Active Ants, allowing the creation of personalized printed boxes for every customer. “This unique functionality allows us to create personalized packaging for not just large but now also for small online stores,” said Jean Lahaye, managing partner at Active Ants. “There is no longer any need to keep hundreds of pallets of preprinted boxes. That cuts customer costs and further shrinks the footprint.”

bpost says it is committed to remaining the leading e-commerce logistics provider in Belgium and helping drive the growth of Belgian online stores with a wide range of solutions. To this end, Active Ants will launch operations at an existing site in Boom, located between Antwerp and Mechelen, in the spring of 2021.

“I’m proud of this new step in our e-commerce logistics activities in the Netherlands,” concluded Jean-Paul Van Avermaet, CEO of bpost group. “This shows not only that we are transforming our business in the right way to respond to the changing needs of our customers, but also that we have the courage to deploy state-of-the-art technology and innovation on the market to make our mark worldwide. I wish the colleagues at Active Ants huge success in this new step and look forward to the opening in Belgium.”

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Lawrence has been covering engineering subjects – with a focus on motorsport technology – since 2007 and has edited and contributed to a variety of international titles. Currently, he is responsible for content across UKI Media & Events' portfolio of websites while also writing for the company's print titles.

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