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Technology

Nike launches robot-assisted warehouse in Japan

Daiwa House setup trims workforce and helps retailers steer clear of Amazon

This Nike distribution center in Chiba Prefecture operates with 215 robots handling 6,000 stacked shelves.  (Photo by Daisuke Ito)

OSAKA -- Daiwa House Industry is teaming up with Nike to launch smart distribution centers where robots whisk racks of items to workers for packing.

The leading Japanese retail warehouse developer will market the system to retailers seeking to drive direct sales to consumers without relying on such digital platforms as Amazon.com.

Daiwa House and group member Acca International will provide distribution center facilities for Nike's e-commerce operations and directly run stores in Japan. At a recently opened fulfillment center in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo that handles 1 million items, 30,000 products a day have been shipped with just 50 to 60 workers -- as little as a quarter those needed at a warehouse of comparable size.

Plans call for opening more locations, including a second site in 2021, also in greater Tokyo.

The Chiba center's 215 retrieval robots scoot around to bring stacked shelves of inventory to workstations. Staffers take shoes and clothing for each order so that others can pack them for shipping. Artificial intelligence is employed to assign more work to the speedy.

The robots track their own locations via QR codes on the floor. Through deploying the system at an existing facility, investment was kept to around 2 billion yen ($18.4 million).

Daiwa House, which boasts know-how in developing fulfillment centers in such markets as Southeast Asia, will consider operating Nike facilities outside Japan as well as supplying the system to other retailers.

"We'll build a role model in Japan and take it to Brazil, Northern Europe and other overseas markets," said Tatsuya Urakawa, a Daiwa House director.

The global market for distribution center robots is growing rapidly. The logistics robot market will reach $22.5 billion in 2022, a sixfold jump from 2018, the International Federation of Robotics predicts.

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