Image credit: AFP/Getty Images
Japanese retail holding company Fast Retailing has teamed with startup Mujin to create a robot who can pack t-shirts. The bot uses its two arms to pick up soft shirts and place them neatly in boxes to be shipped for customers.
While this doesn’t seem like a huge accomplishment, the ability to lift soft clothing has actually been quite a challenge for clumsy robot arms. The AI also needs the ability to sort through and decipher different types of clothing to make sure they are packaged properly. Made by the Yaskawa Electric Corp, the robot is already operating at Fast Retailing’s main warehouse in Tokyo,
“We’ve been putting off working with an apparel company because it’s so difficult,” said Issei Takino, co-founder and chief executive of Mujin. “But Fast Retailing’s strength is its ability to overhaul its entire supply chain to make it fit for automation. If we’re going to take on this challenge, we had to do it with Fast Retailing.”
T-Shirt Packing Robot is Not Perfect
Of course, the shirt-packing robot is not perfect. Takino admitted that the robot was not able to handle all of the facility’s products. For instance, the robot is able to pick up belts but they typically become unbundled as they are dropped into boxes.
Another issue might be dealing with different types of packaging. The robot can easily pick up products wrapped in plastic but may have trouble handling items in more eco-friendly paper bags. The company hopes to work out these flaws with further development and testing.
Fast Retailing Replaced 90% of Workers With Robots at Tokyo Warehouse
Fast Retailing is the world’s third-largest manufacturer and retailer of private-label apparel. Their UNIQLO clothing brand generates approximately ¥1.90 trillion in sales from 2,196 stores in 24 countries. Last year at their Tokyo warehouse, the company replaced 90% of its workers with robots.
Fast Retailing plans to invest $916 million to increase automation at its facilities. The turn to automation is in part due to Japan’s shortage of workers and rising costs.
“It’s becoming extremely difficult to hire workers, and it’s a lot more than people think,” said Takuya Jimbo, a Fast Retailing executive in charge of changing the supply chain. “We have to be the front-runner and continue trial and error because only the companies that can update their business models can survive.”