At a warehouse in Tokyo’s Ariake district once mainly staffed by people, robots are now doing the work of inspecting and sorting the clothing housed there by Japanese retailer Uniqlo.
The company recently remodeled the existing warehouse with an automated system created in partnership with Daifuku, a provider of material handling systems. Now that the system is running, the company revealed during a walkthrough of the new facility, Uniqlo has been able to cut staff at the warehouse by 90%. The warehouse can now also operate 24 hours a day.
The Japan News described how the automation works:
The robotic system is designed to transfer products delivered to the warehouse by truck, read electronic tags attached to the products and confirm their stock numbers and other information.
When shipping, the system wraps products placed on a conveyor belt in cardboard and attaches labels to them. Only a small portion of work at the warehouse needs to be done by employees, the company said.
The Tokyo warehouse is just a first step in a larger plan for Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retailing. It has announced a strategic partnership with Daifuku with the goal of automating all Fast Retailing’s brand warehouses in Japan and overseas. Uniqlo plans to invest 100 billion yen (about $887 million) in the project over an unspecified timeframe. (The Japan News reported that it costs about 1 billion to 10 billion yen to automate an existing warehouse.)
Uniqlo believes the system will help it minimize storage costs and, importantly, deliver products faster around the world. The company has set a target of 3 trillion yen (about $26.6 billion) in annual revenue. Last year its revenue was about 1.86 trillion yen (pdf).