TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Shokuhin, the largest Japanese wholesaler of food products such as seasonings and alcoholic beverages, plans to invest some 15 billion yen ($149 million) in automation at its major domestic distribution centers.
The wholesaler plans to install automated guided vehicles, or AGVs, at its 50 main logistics sites around Japan by fiscal 2020. Working with Toyota Industries and major logistics system manufacturer Toyo Kanetsu, Mitsubishi Shokuhin will develop automated warehouses where AGVs and other machines move stocks.
The companies initially will develop an AGV capable of towing up to 1.5 tons to transport trailers loaded with vegetables. These vehicles run on routes following magnetic tape adhered to the floor to carry out tasks assigned wirelessly. Transport time is expected to be cut in half.
Food warehouses often change their layout depending on the product mix, so a system that can cope with such changes by simply updating magnetic-tape guidance routes offers advantages.
As the first phase of the automation rollout, 70 AGVs will be introduced at distribution centers for large supermarkets in June 2017 at a projected cost of 300 million yen per location.
By the end of fiscal 2017, field research on unmanned forklifts is to begin in an effort to address a shortage of forklift operators. By fiscal 2020, other types of robots are expected to be installed to handle various tasks.
Efforts also will be made to boost work efficiency. Small inventory-management terminals used at four distribution centers since fiscal 2015 will be introduced at half of the company's 314 centers in Japan by fiscal 2018.
Equipped with cameras, these terminals can use the images to automatically read sell-by dates, eliminating the need for workers to manually input the information in the database and preventing data-entry errors from causing shipments of expired products.