Oleg Churilov, RMS: The Self-Isolation Regime Has Caused a Growing Interest in Our Solution
Logistics robots are an area of the robotics market that has been growing rapidly in recent years. In turn, special successes are noticeable in such segment as warehouse robots or robots for use in depots. The domestic robotics market is seriously inferior in the development of markets of several advanced countries, where the number of warehouse robots is measured in hundreds of thousands (!) Nevertheless, in recent years, there have been serious advances in the segment of warehouse robots in Russia. You can find out more about the participants in the Russian warehouse robot market on the Robotrends website.
Below is a summary of a conversation with one of the active participants in the warehouse robots market — Oleg Churilov, CEO of RMS, interviewed by Alexey Boyko, the Editor of RoboTrends.
Oleg, tell us about your company.
RMS (Robotics Management Systems)— RMS (Robotics Management Systems) is a company developing software for managing a swarm of logistics robots. RMS is part of the TechnoSpark Group of Companies actively cooperating with Ronavi Robotics known for its autonomous logistics robots.
Why does Ronavi Robotics need the RMS solution despite the fact that the company’s robots are provided with their own software?
Ronavi robots certainly have their own built-in software, which is created in this company. Our expertise is to control the swarm of robots. Our system can work, for example, with hundreds of robot platforms at the same time. It builds a warehouse map, gives each robot a task, sends to automatic charging the robots, whose charge levels fall below the specified mark. The system deals with emergencies, such as obstacles that prevent the robot from moving along its given route. Mainly, the RMS system allows many dozens of robots to move in a single warehouse space at the same time, doing the tasks we send them.
The RMS software is a middleware between robots and the WMS (warehouse management system) warehouse management software.
Have you worked with the SAP warehouse management software?
Yes, we have integrated robots into the SAP system. SAP has an ERP platform with many modules. The domestic 1C is approximately the same; it has modules such as 1C: Warehouse, 1C: Accounting, etc. The ERP SAP also has the EWM (Extended Warehouse Management) module for automating a high-tech warehouse complex. RMS supports the integration of robots into SAP EWM, which greatly simplifies warehouse automation using logistics robots.
Is RMS able to work not only with SAP EWM, but also with other warehouse management systems?
That’s right, and in this, we see our competitive advantages, the application of our competencies! We can integrate RMS with almost any warehouse management system. In addition, our system can be integrated with almost any warehouse robots.
With Ronavi robots, this integration has already been carried out. Now Ronavi Robotics is deploying pilot projects, and we provide the integration of robots into various warehouse programs. However, in the same way, we will be able to integrate other robots if the relevant order appears.
Do you interact with other Russian or foreign manufacturers of warehouse robots?
Yes. We are currently negotiating with several foreign robot manufacturers. As for the Russian ones... So far, unfortunately, we have not seen on the market any developments that would be ready for mass production and commercial use, except for Ronavi. As for prototypes, there are a lot of them, and that’s a good thing.
Where does the warehouse robotization begin?
The peculiarity of our system is that it is built on a modular type. The imitation module is the first thing we start using when interacting with a customer. The module allows you to build a diagram of a robotic warehouse with a motion simulation. To do this, a serious mathematical model is used—based on the data on the customer’s cargo flow and the parameters of the robots planned for use, the most effective locations of the assembly stations, their number, and the number of robots are calculated.
This creates a digital model for the future warehouse. After the introduction of the robot, the same RMS module will be responsible for direct control of robots, and the model will become a digital double of the warehouse, which will allow visualizing its work and make all processes very visual. This helps in management decisions. The system collects telemetry from robots, accumulates information about the speeds reached, about the position of different goods at different warehouse locations and at different points in time. Analyzing the collected information allows to further optimize the work of the warehouse, clarify the algorithms that control the robots.
How are the RMS-controlled robots spatially positioned?
The Ronavi robots, for example, are guided by the QR tags stuck on the floor and racks. The tags allow for high accuracy of racking, which is directly related to storage density. The exact “binding” of storage units to unique tags allows the RMS system to have information about the current location of any product and robot at any time. Every time a robot drives past one or another mark, it informs the system about its status. The owner of the warehouse can log into the system and without any video cameras on a virtual map see what is currently happening in the warehouse, how much free space is available, and where the particular product is located.
Why did you choose the centralized approach? Why do all the robotic trolleys are operated from a single server, even including operations, such as deciding whether the recharge is necessary?
Choosing the solution architecture is a ‘philosophic question’ to some extent. It is possible to act in different ways, increasing or reducing the autonomy of robots. Of course, we are familiar with the Amazon Robotics approaches, and we know people who wrote the relevant software. At the current development stage of the robotics of the warehouse in Russia, when the number of robots in the warehouse does not exceed 100, we believe that a centralized server is an optimal solution. Another thing, if we are talking about thousands or tens of thousands of robots. Then it would be appropriate to switch to decentralized architecture when part of the route-building functions can be delegated to the robotic ‘brains’.
How is RMS going through a ‘self-isolation’ period?
n recent weeks, we have felt a great surge of interest in our topic. More recently, we have had to prove the feasibility of robotic warehouses, with an emphasis on efficiency. We’ve usually heard typical doubts regarding how much cheaper a robotic solution would be than using inexpensive human labor?
It was difficult to fend off, because, in the economy of 2019, robotics would pay off in about 5–6 years, if we talk exclusively about direct costs. However, some robotic companies have already started to offer their solutions on subscription terms (RaaS, robots as a service), which allows you to do without significant capital investments in robotics. The operation of the RaaS-based warehouse allows talking about operating costs comparable to those in unrobotized warehouses. The great advantage is the absence of a headache in terms of constant search for staff, and training thereof. Besides, unlike humans, robots do not get sick or lazy.
The epidemic has shown even more clearly that the dependence on people, as well as staff in warehouses should be reduced as much as possible.
Therefore, now we began to receive calls more often, we communicate more and more often with potential buyers. We interact with large logistics operators, industrial companies, retailers, and large online trade operators.
Experts began to understand that working on the GTM (goods-to-man) principle, when a robot would bring a rack with goods to a picker, was 5–7 times more efficient than the traditional approach, when a person with a trolley would wander around the warehouse, picking up goods. A person with a cart makes about 60 picks per hour, and the same person at the ‘picking station’, to which robots with racks drive up one after another—up to 450 picks per hour. For online trading, the opportunity to achieve such a gain in the order picking time is very important!
Now many of our potential clients are concerned about solving a momentary task—to withstand the many times increase in demand for their services, which they have faced after the introduction of the self-isolation regime. Here, the proverb is relevant about not changing horses in midstream, they don’t have time to modernize the process. But as soon as they solve these problems, they will be engaged in the robotics of their warehouses, and I believe we are to launch a lot of pilot projects.
The TechnoSpark Group of Companies, a part of the investment network of the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, is involved in all aspects of venture creation: from establishing a start-up to its sale. The TechnoSpark Group of Companies is in the hardware industry, working in areas, such as robotics in logistics, energy storage systems, hi-tech medical equipment, diamond optics, braided composites, optical and industrial surfaces, genomics, industrial microbiology, thin-film integrated photovoltaics, additive technologies and flexible electronics. The Group of Companies is in first place according to the National rating of Russia’s most effective technology parks and was included in the National Rating of Russian Fast-growing Technology Companies, TechUp 2019. It is also a part of the community of startup studios, the Global Startup Studio Network (GSSN).
For more information about the company, visit technospark.ru