Robots zip, lumper and motor around Coupang’s new warehouse
Dozens of robots the size of children zip around dropping packages off according to delivery destination, careful not to cross paths and coming to a smooth stop to let others go by to avoid a collision.
This is a the scene on the first floor of Coupang’s fulfillment center in Dalseong County, Daegu, where automation has reduced the human workload by 65 percent.
Daegu FC, as it is known, cost over 320 billion won ($255.8 million) and is, according to the company, one of the largest logistics centers in Asia. The robots are here to boost Rocket Delivery service volume.
The 330,000 square meters (3.55 million square feet) warehouse, with 10 floors up and two basement floors, is run by wholly-owned Coupang Fulfillment Services (CFS).
Construction was finished in March, with the center currently in beta testing for a latter half formal opening. Daegu FC is using the most up-to-date logistics technologies in the country, according to Coupang.
Coupang has invested an accumulated 6.2 trillion won over the past 12 years to beef up the scale of its logistics network and has over 100 fulfillment centers in 30 regions nationwide. About 70 percent of Korean residents live within 10 kilometers of a Coupang center.
“The Daegu FC constitutes the accumulated investment and effort went into what Coupang believes is the future of commerce,” said Jeong Jong-chul, CFS’s representative director on Friday.
The center will play a central role in the Rocket Delivery service in Gyeongsang, Chungcheong and Honam.
On the seventh, fifth and first floors, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), driverless forklifts and sorting bots could be found.
About 1,000 AGVs were at work on the seventh and ninth floors. Looking like giant pizza boxes, the wheeled platforms move beneath tall shelves of goods, latch onto them and then move the shelves to the right location, following markers on the floor.
AGVs can lift shelves weighing up to 1,000 kilograms.
Before, employees hauled goods between the shelves containing numerous products — which are randomly assorted — one by one to find the proper items.
“AGVs reduced the total workload by 65 percent as the robots deliver the shelves with hundreds of products to their designated station within an average of two minutes,” said CFC’s senior manager Kim Chun-sung.
On the fifth floor, large-volume products are stacked by dozens of driverless forklifts, a core technology that enhances employee safety, according to Coupang.
“The products on the fifth floor are inventory that we receive in large quantities,” said Kim. “If other fulfillment centers report that they need the orders, we sent them accordingly.”
Coupang hopes to reduce accidents related to lifting heavy products as the zone in which driverless forklifts operate are strictly off-limits to workers. The workers who manage the robots were seen situated at a separate corner of the floor.
The mini-forklifts move slowly around the floor automatically toward 1-meter-cube cardboard boxes of goods and gently lift them and take them to the right spot, directed by big QR codes.
On the first floor, sorting robots were busily handling the packaged items, complete with shipping addresses and delivery information.
“The robots eliminate all of the human labor going into sorting,” said Kim. “They sort and move the products based on the regions in just a few seconds, recognizing the barcode of the address affixed to the package with a scanner — they are perfectly optimized for our Rocket Delivery service.”
Several hundreds sorting robots are stationed at Daegu FC, according to the company, although a journalist only saw a few at work.
Employees take packages off a conveyor belt and place them in a circular basket on top of the sorting robot, which reads the label and takes to product to the right zone.
The New York Stock Exchange-listed company was profitable for the first time ever in 2022’s third quarter, reporting a $91 million-net profit. It also achieved its first operating profit, at $77.4 million compared to an operating loss of $315 million the previous year.
Coupang claims that the robots aren’t stealing jobs but creating them.
“We anticipate that the launch of Daegu FC alone will create over 2,500 jobs and indirectly impact the local economy to create up to 10,000 jobs related to the logistics processes as automation enhances the delivery volume,” said Kang.
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]