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    Meili Robots: Universal Fleet Management System for Mobile Robots

    The growing demand for mobile robots has led to an increased number of warehouses around the globe adopting automation, with the warehouse automation market predicted to double by 2026. However, with increased automation come interoperability challenges. Many warehouses, logistic centers, factories, and even hospitals are deploying robots supplied by different manufacturers. In 2019, Meili Robots was founded to tackle interoperability issues after seeing just how many warehouses and manufacturers were using a mixed-vendor fleet and experiencing cross-compatibility issues between systems.

    The trend for robots in warehouses or manufacturing is increasingly moving towards mixed-vendor fleets — fleets with different types of robots from different manufacturers. One robot might be for pallets, another for stock taking, and a third for moving goods like individual boxes or raw materials. All of these robots come with their own, unique fleet management systems, but there is no cross-compatibility between these systems. As a result, they end up working individually, rather than collectively. This is where Meili Robots comes in, with their universal fleet management system, Meili FMS, acting as a unifier.

    When it comes to the backend, Meili FMS has three core features: one, enabling the robots to work collectively, two, smart task management which ensures the robots are always in use, and lastly, navigation, which ensures that the robots know where to go and that the coordinates are always correct.

    Challenges

    Clearly, the challenge Meili Robots is addressing is interoperability. There is much more choice on the market these days when it comes to robots, making it more likely that the different robots within mixed-vendor fleets come with their own fleet manager.

    “This is where the lack of cross-compatibility in legacy systems becomes a problem,” says Aldus von der Burg. “Companies are aware of the challenge and are looking for the solution that removes this headache.

    “There are two types of customers we get, on the market level. The first one has a mixed fleet, is struggling, and is looking for answers as to how to unify the fleet. They’re invested in hardware, and they want to get the most from it. The second has a system already and only uses one robot vendor, but they want something simpler and easier to use when it comes to the interface.”

    Meili Robots is currently running a number of pilots with their solution, ranging from startups to more established companies in, for example, logistics and manufacturing. Customers are testing Meili FMS as either an alternative solution to what they already have or as an answer to heterogeneous fleets (mixed fleets).

    IoT & Connectivity

    Industry 4.0 is all about cross-compatibility. Meili FMS is heavily orientated on mobile robots, which is why the company does not want to spread too thin by being responsible for inventory or warehouse management.

    “We are a sub-system or a branch of the IoT infrastructure,” says Aldus von der Burg. “Through IoT, we can integrate or interface with other systems such as inventory or warehouse management. For example, if an order is being sent from the shelf to packing, we can see the weight and dimensions of the payload, and then assign the robot to go to that coordinate and do its job. So, we can do that kind of interfacing, but we don’t do the overall management.”

    Meili FMS can also interface with the system to stream data, such as analytical data regarding the operations. This data can include success rates, mileages, conditions, charging statuses, idle times, the number of failures, how long the robot has been waiting on or off the job, etc. This data can then be used in a centralized dashboard.

    “Real-time data allows us to see any errors or incidents with the robot. We get an alert and can respond accordingly.”

    When we talk about data, we of course need to talk about security.  Early on, Meili FMS puts measures in place to ensure the data will be secure, using everything from encryption between the robot and the system to two-factor authentication and the isolation of client data. Aldus von der Burg says the company is continuously looking at how they can enhance data security further, while also aiming for as low latency as possible. This means that customers will not be heavily consuming their data plans, and as there are minimum to no lags, the delays in the robots’ operations will be minimised significantly as well.

    The future

    Preparing for the future is necessary for the continuation of improved robot usage and avoiding stagnation.

    5G is a big discussion for IoT and certainly for manufacturing facilities,” says von der Burg. “For me, it is a way to be prepared so we can see where we have the overlap before it gets requested. At the moment, we are focusing mainly on indoor operations, but that’s only because we are quite early. In a year or two, we see ourselves deploying in agriculture and other applications. So, this is preemptive preparation and a way to get that conversation with our partners, meaning we can bring a partner who can solve challenges around data and communications.”

    In terms of the competitive landscape, Meili Robots’s competitors in Europe are focused on larger customers, while in the US they have quite a broad focus. The plan for Meili Robots is to focus on a very core audience at the start and be an accessible company — laying the foundation with four to six big clients. At the same time, they can also serve smaller clients, such as startups.

    “Once we do that, we can scale more widely,” says Aldus von der Burg. “Right now, our focus is on indoor applications because it’s what we can do, and this is where you see the biggest users of robots. They’re the ones experiencing this pain point the most, so we want to tackle that for them. It is very likely that Meili Robots will be looking into other markets and industries where robots are becoming increasingly used. There are already clear indications of value in agriculture and last-mile deliveries, although at this point in time, these are in exploration and not deployed.”

    If you would like to learn more about how IoT can enable your business, please get in touch.