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Cloud Robotics for SAP-Extended Warehouse Management

As of the late 1980s, heavy-duty industrial robots have been implemented by large system integrators to automate the manufacturing lines of large companies. They pay off at scale, but the huge investments and technical know-how necessary to install or operate them, created a significant barrier of entry.

Today, a new generation of robots, so called collaborative robots, makes warehouse automation affordable and useful for even one-off tasks. Yet challenges remain:

  • High upfront costs: System integration is bespoke, time-and-material work, mostly in the hands of OEM or system integrators, that results in expensive and inflexible solutions
  • Vendor lock-in: Vertically-integrated offerings provide more generalized solutions with high dependency but limited flexibility
  • Silos: Multiple solutions are needed to cover use cases, but inter-operability is limited, and tooling is disjoint
  • Inconsistent IT Strategy and Governance: Unclear security and management architecture across sites, de-centralized proprietary monitoring and management tools

To mitigate these challenges, SAP now released SAP Cloud Robotics. It comes as an add-on to Extended Warehouse Management (SAP-EWM) with out-of-the-box EWM scenarios. This new solution dramatically reduces the need for specialized system integrators, promotes re-use, and ensures compliant IT-security and management via:

  1. OEM agnostic architecture – maximum flexibility, freedom of choice
  2. Multi-device and multi-use-case fleets – business demand driven roll-out (automation on demand)
  3. Out-of-the-box EWM integration with predefined scenarios
  4. IT Governance which automatically includes robots

SAP Cloud Robotics works with warehouse robots of most vendors with very little adaptation and can run heterogeneous fleets. Users of the solution gain strategic flexibility and a low-cost entry into warehouse robotics:

  • They can expand into areas where robots haven’t been used. This applies to non-repetitive tasks and assistive tasks. It also applies more generally to small and medium-sized companies, who could not afford robots in the past.
  • They can scale ad-hoc and, thus, optimize machine usage
  • They avoid getting trapped into a vendor lock-in and can run fleets from multiple vendors without the hassle of managing a variety of software stacks.

Last, but not least, the solution is provided as Open Source. Anybody can download it for free and use it or make modifications. The Google part of the Code is here and the SAP part is here.

This is the first blog of a new series that will provide an introduction to Cloud Robotics. Stay tuned for more!

 

4 Comments
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  • Hi Albrecht,

    What is the role/benefit of using SAP Cloud Platform in between?

    I feel like you couldn’t solve something with SAP EWM and used SAP Cloud Platform, what is that?

    Best Regards

    Serhan

  • Hi Serhan,

    Thanks for asking! To integrate subsystems with SAP EWM there has always been the Material Flow Interface (MFS). This is a real-time interface good for integrating any subsystems such as conveyor belts, fork lifts, etc. You can integrate robots, too. Unless the vendor of the subsystem provides an out-of-the-box integration, integrating is a project of weeks or months.

    With Cloud Robotics we take a different approach for collaborative robots. We take advantage of the ROS-stack (based on Linux) most of these robots support. Using Google’s open source tool Kubernetes, we treat the robot as an edge device that can take docker containers. These containers can be independent from a specific robot and the contain the EWM task. Thus, the warehouse order is copied to the robot and synchronizes with the robotics cloud using custom resources. Nice: The robot always knows what it does. Even if the Wifi connection breaks down for a few seconds or a minute, this does not pose a problem. The robot simply synchronizes when the connection is restored and meanwhile continues executing its task.

    Yet, more important is the fact that thanks to the docker containers, this works with virtually any robot. Think of a demand peak in the warehouse such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday: You can add a robot within minutes and it simply integrates.

    Kind regards,

    Albrecht