[Japan’s First] 3D Robot Warehousing System, “ALPHABOT” will become operation in July 2021

The first Alphabot (3D Robot Warehousing System) installation in Japan was announced by Murata Machinery. Murata Machinery, a global leader in the material handling industry, announced it has signed a contract with Alpen Co., Ltd. for the construction of Japan’s first 3D robot warehousing system, Alphabot®. The Alpen Group is Japan’s leading sporting goods retailer. Alphabot® will be introduced at the Alpen Komaki Distribution Center (“Komaki DC”), , one of Alpen Group’s main distribution centers, with the aim of complementing its storage capacity and reducing picking, sorting and packaging operations by approximately 60%.

The system is scheduled to go into operation in July 2021.

Background Behind Introduction of the 3D Robot Warehousing System, “ALPHABOT”

For more than 30 years now, the Alpen Group, Japan’s leading sports retail brand, has expanded its outlets nationwide to meet the diversifying needs of customers in the sports retail industry under the corporate slogan, “Making sports more accessible”. Currently, Alpen manages four retail channels, including small scale retailer, “Alpen”, large scale retailer, “Sports Depo”, golf equipment specialty stores, “Golf 5”, and outdoor specialty stores, “Alpen Outdoors/Mountains”. Each channel offers not only sporting goods, but also apparel, shoes, related accessories, and other products in a variety of categories to accommodate a variety of needs.

At the same time, the distribution industry, which manages the flow of products, is facing a serious manpower shortage as a result of a rise in e-commerce due to an increasing trend for non-contact sales caused by the novel coronavirus, driving up demand for distribution. Further, it is now necessary for employees working in distribution centers to avoid close contact, calling for the introduction of new distribution systems that further promote digital transformation in order to conform to this new way of life.

Against this backdrop, the Alpen Group is moving forward with a new distribution strategy that will completely revamp its existing distribution system in order to create a robust and efficient system and continue to respond to diversifying customer needs. As the first step in realizing this goal, the Group has decided to introduce Japan’s first 3D robot warehousing system, “ALPHABOT”, at the Komaki DC in Komaki City, Aichi. The Group is also considering introducing the system in other distribution bases with the expectation that it will reduce sorting operations at the time of delivery and improve store operational efficiency.

Alpen Group’s New Distribution Strategy to Reduce Operational Workload and Provide a Rapid and Efficient Supply Framework

The Alpen Group’s new distribution strategy is to restructure its distribution system in order to quickly and efficiently supply various categories of products to each sales channel. At the same time, the distribution network will be revised into separate product categories, such as apparel, shoes, large items, and small items in order to realize the following three goals.

Achieving a significant reduction in supply lead time to stores

  • Simplifying the work processes up until the point products are put on store shelves by delivering products that are packaged in accordance with the sales area and brand
  • Optimizing the number of people in the warehouse and deliveries by controlling shipment volume

60% Reduction in Operations & Benefits of Introducing “ALPHABOT”

The first step of the new distribution strategy will involve introducing the 3D robot warehousing system, “ALPHABOT”, at the Komaki DC, a distribution center specializing in relatively small items, such as fitness equipment and supporters, etc., in order to totally revamp the distribution framework. The following three benefits can be expected from the introduction of this system, with the aim of reducing logistics operations by complementing its storage capacity and reducing picking, sorting and packaging operations by approximately 60%.

  • Shifting from conventional flat storage to three-dimensional storage with high-space efficiency to expand the range of products handled
  • Reducing the need for workers to walk around and search for products, enhancing productivity and cutting out the need for skilled workers
  • Reducing human error and improving sorting and shipping efficiency by introducing a one-step process from picking to sorting and packaging

By continuing to drive forward with this new distribution strategy, the Alpen Group hopes to create more attractive stores and enhance the customer shopping experience across approximately 400 stores nationwide. Murata Machinery will also continue to work with the Alpen Group, conducting on-going verification tests to continue to evolve and develop the ALPHABOT system with the aim of establishing a new standard for distribution systems.

ALPHABOT

ALPHABOT, the first such automated warehousing system to be introduced into Japan, uses technology developed by Alert Innovation, Inc., a U.S. logistics robot manufacturer with which Murata Machinery formed a strategic partnership in 2019. The system uses a robot cart to complete everything from storage to picking.

Unlike conventional automated warehouses, the robot cart (BOT), drives horizontally and climbs up and down, running outside the storage rack to automatically supply products to a picking point. This eliminates the need for workers who prepare products by order from an enormous inventory of products from walking around massive warehouses, enabling efficient picking from a fixed location. In addition, because products are stored in a three-dimensional storage rack, the 3D robot warehouse can accommodate a larger volume of products with less floor space than conventional warehouses with AGVs. The system also boasts a workstation for product storing and picking, enabling total picking operations from individual order picking to batch picking. This total system helps to realize more flexible shipping processes. Unlike conventional automated warehouses, every bot can access every location, meaning less problems with the entire system. If one bot fails, another can replace it and this helps to eliminate entire system stoppages keeping shipments on track all the time.

Overview of the ALPHABOT System

  • Robot carts: 130
  • Storage: approx. 26,000 cases
  • Footprint: 69 m x 24 m x 6 m high

System Image

ALPHABOT Robot Cart “BOT” Image

Overview of Alpen Co., Ltd.
Founded : July 1972
Capital : 15.1 billion yen
Financial Result : Net sales of 228.2 billion yen, ordinary income of 2.8 billion yen (Year ended June 2019)

Alpen Co., Ltd. President and CEO Atsuyuki Mizuno

Business Outline :

  • Development and sale of sporting equipment, including ski equipment, golf, tennis, marine, and baseball equipment, etc. and other leisure equipment
  • Management of ski resorts, golf courses and fitness clubs