One of the great challenges facing e-commerce companies is efficiently managing their logistics centers and warehouses. Israeli firm Caja Robotics is now marketing an automated system it developed to replace the human warehouse worker in filling delivery orders for customers. The company announced Monday that it had raised $12 million in capital, led by New Era Capital Partners.
Caja CEO Ilan Cohen says that “unit picking”, as they term it, is hard manual work. “You have to take a heavy box, run across the warehouse, all in a very short and hectic time span. And so people like this work less.” According to Cohen, “there is a serious lack of those willing to do this work everywhere in the world, and people want to find a technology that replaces humans.” This week it was reported that this year Amazon alone hired 1,400 new workers every day, about 427,000 workers over the first 10 months of the year, just to meet the needs of its warehouses worldwide.
There are two main types of solutions to this challenge, Cohen explains. The first is to add robotic capabilities to an existing warehouse, for example, a robot that accompanies the human picker from point to point and carries the cartons for them. These are called collaborative robots, but they are limited as they are no more than smart wagons, and they have to move at a relatively slow pace because they operate alongside a human.
The second solution is to build a new automated warehouse from scratch well-suited for the robotic age – in terms of being able to perform the entire chain of tasks, from shelving to flooring and the rest. There is an Israeli company working in this area, called Fabric. There’s also a French company, Exotech, in the field. The problem with this solution is that it’s very expensive, requiring new infrastructure and massive construction, taking years until the investment is returned.
A two-robot team
The solution offered by Caja (“box” in Spanish) is hybrid, that is, it can be used in an existing warehouse or in one built from scratch. It is actually based on two robots – one bigger, that knows how to take boxes weighing up to 20 kilograms off of shelves as high as 3.5 meters. The other, smaller robot is very fast (2 meters per second) and it brings the box to a human packer.
Hanna Yanovsky, Caja’s vice president, says their “solution is flexible: e-commerce is changing all the time – the products are changing, fashions are changing, products, peak hours – and so the players in this field have to be dynamic in how they manage their warehouse.”
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According to Yanovsky, “we believe in automation that’s also flexible. Our model allows clients to be dynamic and also to grow gradually with us.”
The solution, Cohen adds, is cloud-based, and “it knows what every robot is doing two hours ahead…there’s great wisdom in this: to know how to prioritize and distribute the workload between packing stations, to prioritize orders that are more urgent according to the order type or product type and other parameters that the customer decided on.”
Caja, which is based in the town of Binyamina, markets its solution in a number of models including RaaS – robots as a service, leased monthly by the client. Caja is working on a number of deals and has already closed two new clients who want to install its system.
The first deal is with Bergen Logistics in New Jersey, in a warehouse where 25 robots are fulfilling thousands of orders a day for the greater New York area. Caja recently closed a deal with the Israeli company Sela Logistics, which has more than 120,000 square meters of warehouse space and handles Nike, Adidas, Puma and other brands. Sela, based in Ashdod, will be the first company to install Caja’s system.
‘Robotics is on the rise’
Caja was founded in 2015 by Guy Glass and Reuven Della-Torre. In the summer of 2019, the company changed management, joined by Cohen and Yanovsky. The two came to Caja after they had already worked together in 2017 and sold the motion control systems company Servotronix to the Chinese electronics giant Midea for about $170 million. One of Servotronix’s stockholders was Gideon Argov, who has now led Caja’s current fundraising round and has joined its board of directors.
The company has so far raised $26 million. The current effort is being led by Argov’s and Ran Simha’s venture firm New Era Capital Partners. Additional investors are Gigi Levy-Weiss and Phillipe Spruch, along with other so-called angels.
“The field of autonomic robotics in general and logistic warehouses in particular is on the rise because of the sharp increase in e-commerce,” Argov says. “The unique technology of Caja Robotics puts it at the forefront of solutions in the field. The ability to populate any warehouse with the company’s robots, without changing the existing infrastructure, allows a transition to automation at a much lower cost than the rest of the solutions currently on the market.
The company currently has 50 employees, most of them in Israel, and is planning to use the capital it raises to increase its workforce. Yanovsky says the capital will allow the company to expand its global presence. According to Yanovsky: “Logistics and e-commerce have seen huge momentum in recent years, also because of the coronavirus, which brings new customers online. Companies that manage the supply chain are looking for solutions that will support them as they conform to the new world.”
Companies already know that as the years go by, huge warehouses and logistics centers will not be able to rely only on logistics workers and that robots and smart systems have to become involved, Yanovsky adds. “We expect that the increase in logistics activity in the world recently will increase interest in our products,” she says.