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Soft Robotics Tackles E-Commerce Reverse Logistics

March 6, 2020

Soft Robotics introduced a robotic solution specifically designed for the handling of product returns. The SuperPick Polybag Picking System, an extension of the SuperPick platform, is a new end-to-end robotic material handling solution providing e-commerce operations the ability to automate the handling, scanning and loading of outbound orders and returns of polybagged items.

The SuperPick Polybag Picking System is the latest offering from Soft Robotics’ SuperPick platform. All SuperPick solutions are designed to solve unconstrained material handling challenges in labor starved markets and can integrate across a variety of applications.

The SuperPick Polybag Picking System combines ultra-fast 3D vision with state-of-the-art gripping technology to handle items including those with the highest degree of variability. The turnkey system is designed for order fulfillment and returns processing of items in polybags or self-sealing mailer bags. These malleable plastic bags have become the preferred packaging method in e-commerce due to the lower shipping costs versus cardboard boxes. Handling the variety and the nature of unstructured items in polybags is something that traditional automation has not yet been able to reliably address. The SuperPick Polybag system overcomes these challenges and can handle a multitude of SKUs without re-programming or time-consuming, complex training. It can pick, scan, and deliver identified products of varying size, shape, fragility and weight to any material handling system on the market.

The 2019 holiday season shone a light on the challenge and opportunity specific to reverse logistics. According to a recent report, up to thirty percent of all online orders are returned with some retailers experiencing levels as high as fifty percent. In addition, processing a return requires twenty percent more space and twice the labor as sending out the initial package shipment. It is estimated that the 2019 holiday returns could amount to as much as $90 to $95 billion worth of merchandise returned in 2020. Some retailers will replace the item, or credit the customer’s account and instruct them not to return it; thereby creating environmental considerations that can result from disposing items into landfills, and is why industry experts have referred to product returns as “the ticking time bomb of multichannel retailing.”

“Reverse logistics and returns handling have become the center of attention for many e-commerce companies as recent studies have shown that forty-one percent of people who purchase items online do so with the intention of returning at least part of their order. This problem is only going to get worse as consumers continue to increase their volume of online shopping each year,” said Carl Vause, CEO of Soft Robotics. “We’ve introduced an innovative automation solution that not only addresses the complexity and variability in the unstructured environment of the reverse flow of merchandise, but also is an end to end solution for the full order fulfillment process.”

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