Uniqlo replaces 90% of staff with robots at newly automated warehouse

October 15, 2018

They don’t take bathroom or lunch breaks; and they don’t commute or need medical benefits: At a warehouse in Tokyo that was once mainly staffed by people, robots now are inspecting, sorting, and packing the clothing bound for stores operated by Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo, Quartz reported on October 10.

The company recently remodeled the warehouse to install the automated system, which was created in partnership with Daifuku, a provider of material handling systems. Now that the system is up and running, Uniqlo has been able to cut staff at the warehouse by 90%—and to schedule operations 24 hours a day.

According to The Japan News, which toured the facility, the robotic system transfers products delivered to the warehouse by truck, reads electronic tags attached to the products, and confirms stock numbers and other information.

When shipping, the system wraps products placed on a conveyor belt in cardboard and attaches labels to the boxes. Only a small portion of work at the warehouse needs to be done by employees, the company said.

The Tokyo warehouse is just a first step in a larger plan envisioned by Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retailing, which already has announced a strategic partnership with Daifuku with the goal of automating all of Uniqlo’s warehouses in Japan and overseas.  The companies did not specify the number of warehouses that would be updated.

Uniqlo plans to invest 100 billion yen (about US$887 million) in the project over an unspecified timeframe. (The Japan News reported that it costs anywhere from US$9 million to US$90 million to retrofit one existing warehouse.)

Uniqlo believes the system will help it minimize storage costs and, importantly, deliver products faster around the world. The company has set a target of 3 trillion yen (about $US26.6 billion) in annual revenue. Last year its revenue was about 1.86 trillion yen (US$17 billion).

Research contact: marc@qz.com

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