One of China’s largest e-commerce players, JD.Com Inc., this year invited media to visit its complete automatic logistics warehouse in Shanghai’s Jiading district. The 40,000-square-meter unmanned facility is the third phase of the giant distribution center – which processes 200,000 parcels a day. It mainly undertakes two functions — warehousing and sorting. Robots and robotic arms are used during the entire process.
The facility in numbers
More than 1,000 robots are deployed in the warehouse. Various advanced technologies are involved: 3D imaging-based storage, automatic packaging, artificial intelligence as well as Internet of Things. As Zhang Genyun, chief logistics planner, told media representatives, “the staffless warehouse can handle goods-receiving, storage, sorting, packaging, classifying and goods-dispatching tasks for most types of products without the help of humans”.
A steady growth for unmanned solutions
“As JD’s e-commerce business grows, order volume at unmanned warehouses will continue to increase. Right now, final revenue can basically cover costs,” Zhang told Yicai Global. “On the other hand, the adoption of the unmanned warehouses has helped cut staff recruitment, management and training costs substantially. As technology develops, total costs will continue to decline.”
“What best reflects the unmanned warehouse’s wisdom is not its ability to operate and execute as instructed but its ability to make independent decisions, judgments, correct errors and restore itself,” Zhang said.
For example, data related to delivery notes, packaged objects and barcodes are collected and recognized by the unmanned warehouse’s systems. “The self-developed intelligent brain of the system can calculate 68 billion possible routes for more than 300 robots in 0.2 seconds. The efficiency of the warehouse is three times faster than before, and it is at the leading level in the world”, said warehouse director Pu Pujiang. In other words, the warehouse can make judgments and handle problems itself when an abnormality occurs.
Humans still working there
However, there are still human workers at JD’s unmanned warehouse. In addition to inspectors, three employees were tying large bags before large automated guided vehicles sent big parcels onto the conveyor belts so that they will be delivered to distribution sites, Yicai Global observed.
Human workers are needed because these bags are irregular in shape, making it difficult for machines to handle them, on-site workers said, adding that machines will also be used in the future.
“Many JD warehouses feature man-machine collaboration,” Zhang said. “It’s a common practice these days.”