Augmenting Process Efficiency with Automation-And Physics

Harsha Prahlad, CEO & Co-founder, Grabit Inc.
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Harsha Prahlad, CEO & Co-founder, Grabit Inc.

Harsha Prahlad, CEO & Co-founder, Grabit Inc.

Faster product delivery and efficient process execution have remained a moving target for the traditional industries such as manufacturing and logistics. While many companies from these industries look to achieve high performance through the decentralized approach and strategic positioning of their supply chain apparatus closer to the consumers, cost challenges have been a deterrent.

To elucidate, when an apparel manufacturing company plans to bring a new range of clothing to the market, the preparation phase begins about six months before the scheduled launch date. Considering that the factories are usually located in distant countries—where labor costs are relatively low—from the consumer market, the manufacturers have to strategize the production timeline astutely from its designing to actual manufacturing and shipping. If things progress as planned, the new apparels reach stores on time, yielding favorable results. However, in case there is a delay at any point of the production, and the apparels do not reach the market on time, the same products are put up for sale at reduced profit margins. The immediate solution for manufacturers would be to diversify their factory locations and place them closer to their target market to reduce any chances of losing business opportunities and deliver finished goods in a timely manner. Nonetheless, if these consumer markets tend to be in matured economic nations such as North America or Europe, the high labor costs would be a significant impediment for manufacturing companies. In this current scenario, automation can certainly help.

 The key hardware technology that we have developed is ‘Electro-adhesion’ that allows linkage with any object via electrostatic force, no matter what shape, size or property the objects have.    

Automation for Efficient Manufacturing

Seamless integration of automation into the manufacturing processes is key for enhancing overall process efficiency. To utilize the power of automation more effectively, the automation solution should allow for sophistication and yet have a simple and intuitive user interface (UI)—just like any consumer appliance, a refrigerator or washing machine, that doesn’t require the operators to have programming skills. The one area that has been extremely difficult to automate in the industry because of material handling challenges is ‘soft goods’ manufacturing (any flexible soft material in the production line). Soft goods manufacturing today witnesses large-scale human handling of flexible materials that vary in sizes and shapes. In a typical soft goods manufacturing setup, almost 70 to 80 percent of the tasks involves moving the soft materials, and yet, most of the tasks are performed manually. In essence, you cannot think of bringing automation to the industry by ignoring the 80 percent of the workflow. Hence, it is essential to unlock the potential of automation in addressing material handling. This could be in the apparel, footwear, or even in industries such as aerospace and automotive where car seats and air bags are built.

Automating transport

Similar to manufacturing, companies in the logistics industry are also struggling to find appropriate solutions to get products delivered from distant warehouses on the ‘same-day’ or ‘next-day’. The consumers are demanding ‘instant gratification’; to this end, product warehouses need to be located in the heart of the city—an unrealistic probability as it would require the company to build high throughput in the constricted space. For instance, in a shrunken warehouse, the conveyor belts need to be placed at sharper inclines and products need to traverse faster on the ramps, which seem to be a near impossible task because you are bound by the laws of physics. You can only move products so fast on a conveyer belt before it starts to slide or fly off around turns.

The grabit story—electro-adhesion

Abreast of these industry impediments, Grabit has developed a unique technology that brings the power of automation to achieve superior operations in the manufacturing and logistics industries. The key hardware technology that we have developed is ‘Electro-adhesion’ that allows fastening with any object via electrostatic force, no matter what shape, size or property the objects have. We employ the same principle by which a balloon sticks to hair. We supply power to a polymeric device and energize it so that it fastens to anything temporarily. Once we turn off voltage, the object gets detached.

Powering warehouses and factories

Our proprietary devices, Stackit and Conveyit, are the precise automation solutions for the manufacturing and logistics industries to reform their operations. Stackit, using the same principles of electro-adhesion, help manufacturing companies to stack up cut materials of any size and shape (including soft and flexible goods) with precision. This device eliminates manual labor from one of the most common processes in the factories, which is piling up goods on top of each other. We have designed a simple UI—just like a smartphone operates with a single push button, our device is designed with one touch functionality. Once you enter the design of your preference, Stackit will automatically figure out the sequence and placement accuracy by looking through the output camera. The device requires low maintenance as the built-in machine learning capability automates updating of the programs without any interference from the user.

For the supply chain management companies, we employ the principle of electro-adhesion through our product solution Conveyit. Utilizing this capacity on conveyor belts, Conveyit allows the product to stay fastened to the ramp, regardless of its weight. It therefore allows the conveyor belts to move faster with the products without having the same limits around curves as they previously had. By removing the gravitational constraint, you can now go faster and through steeper inclines and declines, thereby significantly shrinking the warehouse space and that’s a big deal for people who are building 50-100 warehouses every year, spending millions of dollars.

Journey toward Greater Automation

As companies in the manufacturing and logistics arena are moving toward greater customization, a customer will soon be able to use their cell phone to upload clothing measurements and receive a completely customized shirt or a dress at the doorstep next day, designed as per their measurements. The automation solutions shall be highly customizable to suit the specific demands of the customers in both manufacturing as well as logistics industries.

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