Japan-based Fast Retailing, the parent of fast fashion retailer Uniqlo, is investing $885 million to automate its global warehouse and distribution system and expand its partnership with Daifuku, a materials handling systems and logistics provider.
“We want to introduce automated warehouses around the world as soon as possible,” said Fast Retailing CEO Tadashi Yanai to reporters on a tour of the fully automated Ariake warehouse. The Ariake warehouse cut staff 90% and became a 24-hour operation after completing the automation.
Fast Retailing and Daifuku will form a team with members from both companies for the planning, implementation and maintenance of fully automated Fast Retailing Group brand warehouses in Japan and overseas, with the aim of establishing a better logistics environment. The new system is designed to ensure more timely delivery of products and minimize storage costs.
Daifuku, which helps companies handle and sort products, has more than 7,500 employees worldwide, with non-Japanese sales accounting for two-thirds of its business.
Neither company has provided a timeline for the investment, but a joint statement indicated that they had “the aim of achieving the introduction of automation in the shortest possible timeframe.”
Automated warehouses are gaining steam throughout retail as technologies such as AI and robotics continue to grow, but very few of these distribution centers are 100% automated. Kroger is still getting into the process of selecting the first of three automated warehouses it plans to build by the end of 2018. The supermarket giant is accomplishing this in partnership with Ocado, a UK-based online grocer that uses purpose-built robots capable of picking a 50-item order in minutes to man its automated warehouses.
Boxed, a wholesaler of bulk-sized essentials and grocery items, fully automated its New Jersey fulfillment center by introducing nearly two miles of conveyor belts and autonomous guided vehicles (self-driving carts) to transport goods.