Smart Robotics specialist in robotics and warehouse automation
Please introduce yourself and Smart Robotics to our readers?
I’m Heico Sandee, CTO and co-founder of Smart Robotics. After attending Eindhoven University of Technology, I worked at Canon, and then at Alten, as a Technical Manager. I have a PhD degree in Robotics, with more than 15 years of experience in Robotics Development. Previously, I was the program manager for robotics at Eindhoven University of Technology, for three years, and also platform manager at RoboNed – now part of Holland Robotics – the Dutch robotics platform.
Founded in 2015, Smart Robotics is a market-leading specialist in robotics and warehouse automation. We offer robotic pick and place systems that are designed with the promise of our Smart Technology to improve reliability of warehouse operations, increase capacity, and to alleviate the pressures of the labor shortage across Logistics. Our pick and place systems help improve working conditions for floor workers in fulfillment centers by taking over repetitive and physically strenuous tasks, such as order picking, packing, palletizing, and sorting.
How did you get the idea of Smart Robotics?
Smart Robotics was born from the observation that the robotics industry lacks solutions that address the need for flexibility and functionality. Automation and robotics needed a new perspective, one that allowed for a greater integrated approach to solving problems in the warehousing sector. Since founding Smart Robotics, our focus has largely been on developing solutions that take on a human-centric approach and that truly enhance the functionality and effectiveness of different areas across logistics.
Why did you decide to start with Smart Robotics?
All robot deployments in industry, up to a couple of years ago, were based on very rudimentary technology – hard coded behavior for fully conditioned environments, and built with a super narrow task focus. These cannot address the more difficult challenges we are facing in logistics, like achieving optimized throughput capacity. Combine this with the enormous increase in labor needs across logistics and you have a very intricate problem to solve. The curiosity, let alone the challenge, inspired me.
Efficiency and optimization inspired me. For warehouse employees who carry out repetitive manual labor tasks, I wanted to introduce reliable robotic systems that ease up the job by automating time and energy consuming tasks. For the industry at large, robotic systems are able to run continuously, meaning they don’t suffer from any health and safety concerns and they can go 24/7 without taking a break. This creates the potential of faster return on investment – whilst answering the labor crisis in Logistics, without neglecting the physical and mental health of warehouse employees. Essentially, warehouse throughput is optimized and parcel handling capacity is improved.
What is the vision behind Smart Robotics?
Our goal is to enhance working conditions for warehouse employees, from all across the Logistics spectrum. That’s why our robotic systems are designed to seamlessly integrate with the day-to-day operations of the warehouse and to raise the standards of the employee experience. We aim to not disrupt the existing infrastructure of the fulfillment center, but to enhance the operations and employee capacity thereof. In turn, helping to improve the throughput and flow of parcels moving through the warehouse.
How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?
Starting up was quite interesting, having to define what problem we’re solving and where it would make the most impact. For example, we first designed a robot for the Uitzendbureau in the Netherlands. At that time, we developed a robot which the user could train for any application. We had robots gluing tiles on a prefabricated wall, assembling shavers, or even testing navigation systems. We learned that to have a robot solving the more complex challenges, with lots of variation like you find in logistics, we needed to dedicate our solutions more towards a specific, pre-defined task. That is why we are now focusing on item and parcel pickers, rather than multipurpose temp workers.
Logistics is a uniquely interesting market to break into and the pandemic didn’t make it any easier. We were presented with many challenges any young startup would understand. New technology is developing all the time, coupled with changing customers habits and with a huge need for solutions but not enough time to innovate. We had to change course in how we think about the market we’re serving. The industry has since settled. The e-commerce market is not growing as rapidly as it was during Covid, creating some breathing room for us. We can now prioritize a cost saving focus for our clients, where our robots fit in perfectly. Especially with our picking automation as a service offering.
Who is your target audience?
We’re here to help those from across the Logistics value chain, particularly warehouses and fulfillment centers that are looking to automate and implement robotic systems. Our robots and cobots are designed which three main IPC’s in mind:
Parcel Carriers having to move large and heavy goods
Fashion & ECom and General Merchandise ECom
Food and Pharma Companies
What is the USP of your startup?
The Smart Robotics Tech Trinity: Our solutions are developed in-house and are based on our Smart Technology and we don’t supply a single technology (vision system, gripper, robot, etc), but a fully-integrated solution that is configured for each specific project. With enhanced vision, motion and task planning, our robotic systems are smarter in their abilities to adapt alongside the dynamic environments they are introduced to, like changes in assortment. As such, the solutions are capable of working in the real world of warehouses, instead of a predefined (coded) environment.
Ease of Use: Our automated systems are easy-to-use, no matter your experience with robotics! Anyone can interact with them and manage the system. This way you don’t need to be a robotics technician to work with specialized technologies. Innovation in this area has been paramount to Smart Robotics’ success, and a large part of this comes down to providing our customers with easy-to-use solutions. We now have customers in 15+ countries, from around the world, and our team of 70+ employees continues to grow.
Aiding Employee Capacity: Our solutions are focused on improving the working conditions for employees and to create better opportunities for them to learn a new skill, such as developing their understanding of robotics in practice. By having robotic solutions take over repetitive tasks like parcel picking, employees have more capacity in their day to focus on tasks that require greater critical thinking. Picking items in warehouses is a repetitive process that’s hard-wearing on the people who manually execute this task. Instead, automation can enable warehouse employees to tend to the robotised systems, rather than wearing themselves out by picking and sorting items manually.
Can you describe your typical workday?
I innovate during my morning shower: I do most of my thinking when I’m alone in the mornings, before my head gets busy with too many to-do’s. I find that my most creative and sensible ideas come when I’m calm and not interrupted with the priorities of the workday.
Catch up with teams in the morning: It’s important to have regular check-in sessions with different departments. Being in-sync with each other and aware of what everybody is working on helps the day move along as frictionlessly as possible.
Work on strategy with my management team in the afternoon: Once the morning catch-up sessions are done, we move over to focusing on strategy and the developmental goals we aim to meet. This could also include a few sessions spent in the workshop if there’s discussions needed with the engineers.
Catch up on email in the evening: Lastly, when the big tasks are completed, I make sure my personal admin is up to date and that I’ve checked in with our partners and clients. It’s also important to stay up to date with industry news, so I’ll end the day with some reading before signing off.
Where do you see yourself and your startup Smart Robotics in five years?
We’ve recently rolled out multiple new products, with many more to come, and are working with our partners to develop specialized solutions for underserved markets. We have a particular focus on the parcel carrier and handling industry, especially looking at ways to improve warehouse operations for the retail and e-commerce sector. For example, the Smart Parcel Picker is but one of the many solutions we’re continuously improving to make warehouse automation even more versatile and dynamic in a highly performant Logistics industry.
We want to become a one-stop-shop picking provider for logistics,being the number one choice as a pick & place partner, providing solutions for any picking task! That’s the long-term goal. For the immediate market, we’re very focused on supporting the human workforce and making their daily activities more manageable, not having them conduct physically demanding tasks, but rather free up time for them to engage in more critical thinking activities, such as creative problem solving or further skill development.
What 3 tips would you give to founders?
Focus as much as you can on a specific market: You cannot be everything to everyone. You have to define your niche and be sure to really pay attention to their distinct problems. Make sure to clearly define the parameters of the problem you’re focusing on and develop quality products/services that amount to viable solutions.
Focus on where you excel: Define your key strengths and play into them. Chances are, there’s very little people or companies that can do something as well as you when you’re in-tune with your area of expertise. This doesn’t mean you have to be passionate about something to do it well, you just have to be willing to wake up every morning to improve the problem you’re solving. Dedication outweighs passion.
Focus on gaining market traction as fast as possible: Act on the ideas you have, if you wait too long, someone else is going to swoop in and dominate the market before you could. Surround yourself with others who believe in you and who back your ideas – use your network to build traction and to grow your ecosystem of fellow industry experts. Having trustworthy connections, who want to see you succeed, will help you get far.
More information you will find here
Thank you Heico Sandee for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.