stow Robotics, part of the stow Group, has today announced a significant rebrand and the launch of a new product to add to its portfolio. Under the new name ‘Movu Robotics’, the company has wasted no time in revealing its Movu eligo robot picking arm.
At its new headquarters in Lokeren, Belgium, Movu Robotics has facilities for engineering, research & development, and production. In addition, an Experience Centre demonstrates the technology in action to Movu’s customers and partners.
The location of its headquarters is key; situated between university cities Antwerp and Ghent, it is hoped that young talent in the robotics sector will be drawn to the facility. Furthermore, Movu Robotics expects that having this facility located where it is will be convenient for customers and partners visiting the region to see warehouses in action, all whilst boosting brand visibility.
Existing products will still be offered, rebranded under the new name. These include the Movu atlas (a pallet shuttle system), the Movu escala (a bin shuttle), and Movu iFollow (a range of AMRs). iFollow was acquired by the stow Group in 2022.
In addition, the Movu eligo has been launched today. Described as an ‘AI-driven picking robot’, this product was developed in collaboration with Righthand Robotics. Capable of picking 600 items per hour, the robot is integrated with the Movu escala bin shuttle for fully automated bin picking.
Machine vision and a system of grippers allow the robot arm to grasp products up to 30cm , with machine learning technology providing feedback on successful and unsuccessful picks for continuous improvement. Movu claims that this gives it a pick accuracy upwards of 99%.
Furthermore, Movu has its own warehouse execution system (WES), made up of three parts. Movu ops assists with operations management, Movu tower checks resource availability and dispatches shuttles accordingly, and Movu pilot handles the execution of the order. Like the hardware, this software is also demonstrated at Movu’s Experience Centre in Lokeren.
Logistics Manager sat down with Chief Executive of Movu Robotics Stefan Pieters to find out more about this significant change. Here is what he had to say:
In your own words, why is stow Robotics rebranding to Movu Robotics and what does this mean for the company going forward?
“Coming from stow, a leading racking provider, of course there’s always the association with racks and some of our customers were really surprised to learn that we do automation and software as well.
By rebranding to Movu, what we really want to bring to our customers is the clear idea that we’re a hi-tech company, we build robots, we build software, and yes, they run on stow racks, but what you get from this company is something different.
Repositioning it under Movu really helps us there to give a clear perception of what we are offering – that was the driver for the rebranding.”
It’s not just a new name that’s being announced today, you are launching the Movu eligo, a robot picking arm. What can you tell us about this robot and what do you hope it will help your customers achieve?
“With the escala, we’ve got a very elegant bin storage system and up until now we had manual picking stations. It’s such a logical extension to then present the bin to a robot that then does the picking.
There’s good picking robots available on the market, so we partnered up with one of the leading brands (RightHand Robotics) and what we then did is made an integration into our system that is really seamless so for the end customer, you can hook up a manual picking station or you can hook up a robotic picking station; from the point of view of the flow of goods, it’s really seamless.
Going forward, what do we expect? Of course as always, you want more capacity, more picks per hour, but you also might want to be able to handle more products and different products. As long as you’re handling nice square cardboard boxes, life is easy, but that’s not the magnitude of products [that many customers require], so we’ll be pushing the boundaries there going forward.
The benefit to the customer, of course, is that picking operators are getting harder and harder to find – it’s a 24/7 job and it’s very repetitive – so [the eligo] is not necessarily only bringing down cost, it’s also able to increase volume with the same number of people.
If the robot can already handle 50-80% of your product spectrum, it can already prepare part of the orders and then you’ve got the human operator to finish it off with those products that are difficult. [This allows you to] increase your capacity with the team you already have.”
How important is artificial intelligence and machine learning to the Movu eligo and future Movu products?
“Especially for picking products, it’s extremely important because you rely a lot on vision and on recognising first of all where the product is located, and then how it can be grasped. Of course, you have base strategies and base knowledge, but then by giving it constant feedback when you try something that is successful or unsuccessful, you can increase the rate of successful picks.
If you look at end customers, you can see the robot getting smarter on the range of products being presented to it, so clearly [AI] is very important.
If you’re looking at our shuttles driving back and forth, there’s not too much AI involved. Where it starts to become interesting is if you then look at how goods can be steered for the installation to reach peak performance. [AI can inform] when to release certain products and when not to release certain products.
You can go a long way with algorithms, but you can still see that human operators can still fine-tune the installation and that’s the part where I believe, on our other applications, AI will then kick in to do the tweaking on a higher level to get installations to perform at maximum performance.”
The launch of the Movu eligo is in no way the last addition to your product line – you are planning to launch another product next year. What areas in the robotics world are you planning to expand into?
“The only thing I can say about [next year’s addition to the product line] is that it is a next generation bin shuttle.
One side of what we’re doing, the boring side, is making sure that the applications we already have work better and can deal with the scaling we’re going through. Whether you’re doing 50 million projects per year or three to four million projects per year, you will have to work on your product, the way you roll it out, and the way you implement it. That, for sure is one big direction of development. Of course, that’s not adding new products or applications – it’s just making sure that we can do more of the same, more efficiently.
At the same time, we’re also looking at other applications. If you just look at the flow of goods in a company, there’s goods coming in – often on pallets – so you need to move those pallets, store them, then build orders and maybe reassemble them to pallets before they go out. We already have a few very interesting applications in part of this flow, we’ll link it with AMRs but maybe there’s still a few spots in-between that are very attractive to automate so if you’re looking for future extensions, that’s the direction we’re thinking in.”
What are the benefits to customers of having robots that can work through the night?
“A lot of our customers work 24/7 in their factories. Being able to continue their operations with limited or low operator presence is a real benefit. That’s why all of our shuttles use opportunity charging so whenever they have a few spare minutes, they charge back up again and are ready for the next set of transport orders.
Looking at payback, if you have a 24/7 operation, the return on investment becomes a no-brainer.”
Both stow Group and Movu Robotics are global brands – what are your biggest targets in terms of the global market?
“Historically, stow was always focused on Europe, that’s why we have a very good and solid presence in Europe. Driven by robotics, stow started [operations] in the US and right now the US represents 50% of our order intake. The expansion in the US is really driven by robotics and we’re only at the start of what we can do there. Our first target is to continue to grow in the two core markets – Europe and the US.
In Australia and New Zealand, we are opportunistic because we have good dealers there and through our local stow representation, we were able to do a few very nice projects. Going forward, there is of course a very interesting market in South East Asia, South America etc, and we will be looking at it but we’re already working on five product families in parallel, scaling up the company, scaling up the geographies, so we won’t be doing everything at the same time. There will be some pacing.
Our first priority is Europe and the US, but we’re a global brand and we’re looking for a global presence – that is very clear.”
stow Robotics has been shortlisted as a finalist for the 27th Supply Chain Excellence Awards. Check out the full shortlist and don’t forget to book your table for the biggest event in the supply chain calendar, taking place on 9 November at the London Hilton on Park Lane! Click here to find out more about attending or sponsoring!