Moving Boundaries

Bots That Perform Complex Tasks for Humans – Robots That Manage Warehouses. Science Fiction? Not anymore!

For the third time ‘LAB powered by METRONOM’ shows what the future of digitalisation in the wholesale and hospitality industry already holds today. This time, the focus is on ‘Robotic Assistance and Process Automation’.

Robotics header pic
The METRO Innovation exhibition is opening its doors for the third time to present new digital solutions from the world of robotic assistance, process automation and artificial intelligence for the wholesale and food retail industry. Illustrative application cases guide visitors through the exhibition and provide them with the opportunity to try out the tech solutions interactively. As with previous exhibitions, all visitors will assume a specific role to help them view the showcases and clarify the application area for METRO customers and employees. Driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotic assistants are intended to make the lives of employees easier and provide a positive customer experience. Some of the applications are innovative prototypes, which makes it all the more interesting to take a look behind the scenes of these developments. But which technologies exactly are hidden in the LAB this time?
Process Automation Against Productivity Killers

Process Automation Against Productivity Killers

Imagine the METRO stores in India (of which there are 27, by the way). Goods have to be delivered to each of these stores. Of course, the direct suppliers do not all deliver at the same time or when they feel like it, but rather they coordinate delivery dates for the merchandise. And how? Well, by telephone! Each of the 27 Indian stores has one full-time employee who does nothing else all day but work the phone to allocate the appropriate delivery slots. An insanely time-consuming job that involves many Excel spreadsheets and repetitive actions. These rule-based, structured processes are exactly the tasks that are intended to be taken over by robots. Well, strictly speaking, they are not really robots, but more of an automated algorithm that identifies and automatically allocates free slots. For the suppliers this means that the whole process will be almost as easy as ordering a pizza online. People only have to intervene when problems arise or the aforementioned algorithms reach their limits.

This automation is expected to save 95% of the time and of course the capacity of those employees who are then freed up to take over other tasks during this time. Moreover, human errors will be avoided. The application will soon go live in India.

Goods Invoices in Seconds

Assume the goods have been delivered to METRO. What is the next step? Correct! The invoices need to be paid. So, the METRO employee simply picks up his mobile phone and takes a picture of the invoice, which is recognised by the new application and checked to ensure it is valid. This is exactly what The Data Capturing Enterprise Solution (DCES) presented in LAB makes possible. Thanks to machine learning, this application can recognise a wide variety of invoice layouts and styles, thus ensuring high data quality and automation rates. The whole thing can be easily integrated into the METRO merchandising IT landscape and makes the life a little easier for the person who enters the invoice. If the incoming goods posting is valid, the invoice can be paid with a simple click from that point on.

Prozess automatisation
autopilot drone

Warehouse Inventory Check of the Future

Taking inventory can be a lengthy process. And any lengthy task tends to become monotonous and repetitive, which ultimately also leads to more human errors. Robots can already relieve us of this work and provide room for other tasks. Here is an example: In a warehouse, some goods were incorrectly allocated. Humans may know that this happened, but they do not know in which storage shelves the goods were incorrectly placed. In this case, a warehouse clerk would have to go and manually check each shelf in a rack for faulty storage items. Sounds like a lot of unpleasant work. But there is another way: The warehouse clerk could pick up a tablet and use a drone (for example, the PINC Aerial Inventory Robot™) to search the shelves. In many cases, the drones can complete such tasks in much less time – and with much greater precision than humans could do. The robot does not replace the human. Not in this case, nor in other cases. Rather, the employees are relieved of certain tasks and can devote their time to more meaningful, more demanding tasks. Tasks that robots would not be able to solve.

‘Okay, Google, add tomatoes to the shopping list...’

Cooking is art. Nowadays, chefs are often distracted from developing new menus and recipes by simple routine tasks, such as ordering goods, checking inventory levels and other matters that have to be performed manually in the restaurant. The Virtual Shopping List Assistant, a voice command assistant for shopping lists, is designed to take over routine tasks by adding ingredients of certain existing or new recipes to the shopping list by voice command. The ingredients can be purchased directly from one of the METRO stores via an app. And before you know it, the purchase is complete. Unfortunately, the whole process is not quite that easy yet: recipes have to be stored manually, the voice command assistant may not recognise words or it may simply be too loud for the voice command assistant in a large kitchen. There is still plenty of room for tech solutions and innovations in this field. But the first steps have already been initiated.
Voice assistant in the kitchen

New technologies are making life easier for people by giving them more room for creativity, allowing them to complete complex tasks and take care of more important things than searching monotonously for a box in the warehouse or a delivery time slot in an Excel spreadsheet. Everyone can see and try out these exciting applications in the ‘LAB powered by METRONOM’ and get inspired about new tech solutions in the wholesale industry.

And last but not least, here is a first look at the next LAB, where we will cover ‘Smart Checkout’. The contact to the team and guided tours through the ‘LAB powered by METRONOM’ remains: nikita.baranov@metronom.com


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