Logistics Robots Increasingly Being Deployed in Japan

Courtesy of Amazon.com / Jiji Press
Robots move around at a large-scale logistics base of Amazon.com in Chiba.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — An increasing number of companies in Japan are introducing robots that automatically transport goods and parts at their warehouses and factories.

Rationalizing logistics is an urgent issue amid the ever-growing popularity of e-commerce and labor shortages.

The logistics robot market is booming also because of the so-called 2024 problem, or the introduction of an overtime cap for truck drivers from April next year that is seen resulting in serious driver shortages.

Amazon.com introduced about 2,600 self-propelled robots at its large-scale logistics base in the city of Chiba, which started operations in late August. Out of more than 30,000 product shelves, the robots pick up shelves containing ordered goods and automatically deliver them to employees in charge.

As the robots help save time, “we can increase inventories by up to 40%,” a company official said. Amazon.com acquired in 2012 the U.S. company that developed the system to promote its introduction.

Demand for such robots, called automated guided vehicles or autonomous mobile robots, is surging worldwide. The market related to AGVs and AMRs in Japan is expected to reach ¥118.9 billion in 2030, up threefold from the 2022 level of ¥38.4 billion, according to Japanese research firm Fuji Keizai Co.

The 2024 problem is helping expand the market. To avoid disruptions in distribution operations, it is essential to reduce the waiting time for truck drivers as well as the loading and unloading time.

Foreign companies are leading the Japanese logistics robot market.

Geekplus from China ranked top in sales of shelf transport AGVs by value in Japan in 2021. A Geekplus official said that the company’s logistics robots help increase shipment efficiency four to five times.

A total of more than 2,000 Geekplus robots have been introduced at domestic bases of companies including electronics retailer Bic Camera Inc., mail order company Askul Corp. and U.S. sports equipment maker Nike Inc.

French startup Exotec’s automated warehousing system has been adopted by clothing retailer Uniqlo Co. and real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan Co.

Some Japanese makers are focusing on customizing their robots to meet the needs of clients.

Tokyo Kikai Seisakusho Ltd., a major rotary press manufacturer, has developed an AGV that can be used outdoors in bad weather and on bumpy roads. Hoping that the AGV will be its new cash cow, the company plans to increase sales of the robot to ¥1 billion in three years.