By Dan Sanchez | Feb 13, 2020
Westlake Village, California
Westlake Village, California
Industry: Industrial & Equipment
Products: Autonomous robots
While working on Ph.D. degrees in robotics at the University of Southern California, Elazary built many robots with co-founders Dan Parks and Randolph Voorhies.
"Making robots is expensive, so we would search on Amazon to find low-cost components to build them," says Elazary. "We started noticing we could get things like sheets of aluminum shipped to us overnight, and wondered how Amazon was able to fulfill orders so quickly. So it dawned on us that the fulfillment process couldn't possibly be a profitable one and realized that warehouse automation would be the perfect platform for robotics."
Based on this idea, the three started inVia Robotics in 2015, realizing that the growth of e-commerce required warehouses with lots of space and people to do repetitive tasks. "To meet the increasing demand for goods that had to be shipped quickly, we thought robotics could boost order fulfillment by eliminating the time and mistakes of finding, picking, and replenishing items in a large warehouse," says Elazary. "We worked on this and developed a line of automated self-propelling robots that could do all that and more."
The company manufactures autonomous, battery-powered robots that operate 24/7, and can pick, replenish, return, cycle-count, sort, and inventory everything from a simple-to-use platform. "Our robots adapt to any warehouse environment and utilize our AI operating system," says Elazary. "The best thing is that we offer this as a service, so companies don't have to get into the robot business to use them. We become a fulfillment partner where we maintain and service all of the equipment and software."
According to Elazary, inVia Robotics currently has more than 400 robots deployed into a variety of warehouses across the United States. "Most of our customers use an average of 30 to 40 robots," he says. "From their use, order fulfillment is boosted by as much as 500 percent. From the various platforms we experimented with, we found that the best would be a robot that could provide goods to a person. We adapted ways for the robot to find the goods in the warehouse, manipulate a box with the goods in them, and deliver it to a person who would place the product in a package and ship to the customer."
inVia's robots can then replace the box of goods back to the warehouse and move onto the next task. "Along with picking and replacing, the robots can also replenish and have the capability extending up to eight feet to reach higher shelving," says Elazary. "We also added inventory capabilities where it can measure the storage box by its weight and know if inventory is getting low. The robots, combined with our inVia Logic programming, increases productivity and makes workflows more efficient. For example, if one product is constantly called for, it can move the storage box closer so it won't have to travel as far."
Manufacturing inVia's robots is also just as efficient as the way they operate. "Robotics in the U.S. has increased substantially, and many of the components are made locally," he says. "We purchase many of the components, but because of the complexities, each robot is assembled by hand in our facility. By the end of the year, we estimate we will be producing and deploying more than 1,000 robots."
While inVia's robots can transform warehouses to be much more efficient, the thought of using fewer people is often an issue the company has to contend with. "The idea of a robot is to make people's lives better," says Elazary. "Our robots are buying you time to do something else. This allows for greater productivity from employees, as they can be trained to do higher-level tasks. We've had really good feedback so far and many of the companies that use our robots, tell us that their employees are more satisfied. They're being challenged to do more in roles such as QC, and other value-added services that also add to their level of work experience."
Challenges: "Most of the challenges we face come from helping warehouse managers adapt to the change," says Elazary. "The integration was always a problem but we've managed to solve that with quick deployment. With the robotics, we try to show the managers how to empower their people, and over time, they and the employees end up loving it."
Opportunities: "In general, e-commerce is taking off because of automation," says Elazary. "Amazon has shown that more people will buy online if they can get it now. So the issue becomes how to support that without huge armies of people. I believe there will be more micro-fulfillment centers across the country, smaller warehouses that can deploy and fulfill orders much more quickly. To do that, automation is the only way."
Needs: "Right now, we are needing to expand and are looking for salespeople to introduce our products into more businesses locally and internationally," says Elazary.