Other / September 01, 2021

‘We want to actively contribute to UAE’s Operation 300bn’

It goes without saying, 2020 and the pandemic brought economic challenges with it. We have managed to maintain and grow our business and increase our in-house capacities, which we consider a major achievement. ” - Navin Narayan, MD of Acme in an interview with Gulf Industry

With the advent of collaborative robotics solutions, small businesses can incorporate robotics to help with pick and place operations, palletisation as well as routine assembly work, says NAVIN NARAYAN, MD of Acme in an exclusive interview with PUMMY KAUL.

With the increase in e-commerce, many warehouses are struggling to keep up in the face of rapidly increasing consumer demand. In order to close the labour gap and ensure shipments happen on time, there is a growing trend towards warehouse robotics and automation.

The Acme Group, which was established in Dubai in 1975 with the vision of supporting the needs of the local logistics industry with manual shelving and racking solutions, is currently designing and installing dedicated solutions for warehouses as well.

While requirements differ depending on industry and type of products being handled, the company says it has robotic solutions that can cater to all. A full spectrum system integrator with over 44 years of experience in the Middle East, Acme’s expertise in warehouse and industrial automation lies in solution development, installation, system integration and life cycle support.

With an experienced in-house team based in Dubai, Acme has drawn ambitious growth plans including investing in R&D to develop new solutions. ”We want to actively contribute to the UAE government’s vision of ‘Operation 300bn’ by helping regional manufacturing companies improve their value addition capabilities at the same time help them be more efficient,” said Navin Narayan, Managing Director of Acme, in an exclusive interview with Gulf Industry. 

He also spoke at length on warehouse technology trends and robotic palletisation in addition to the opportunities and challenges, expansion plans and his vision for the future.

What have been the major achievements, milestones and special developments of the year 2020-21 at Acme?

It goes without saying, 2020 and the pandemic brought economic challenges with it. We have managed to maintain and grow our business and increase our in-house capacities, which we consider a major achievement. We also managed to continue growing our system integration vertical, and improved our in-house production capacities. With new regulations around social distancing and safety, a lot of our customers are investing more in automation, which has triggered increased demand in this sector.

While travel restrictions have made it harder for us to mobilise our team of engineers to regional installation sites, we have been able to cut down installation time by pre-assembling a large part of the system in-house prior to shipping to site. We were awarded a project in Saudi Arabia to design and deliver one of the largest automated warehouse systems for the region’s largest retail and fashion operator.

The project is currently in installation and should go live by mid-2022. We were also awarded a project to deliver a high-speed product sorter for one of the largest supermarket retailers in the region. The system is expected to go live in Aug 2021 and will be able to sort over 7000 cases of fresh produce per hour.

We have greatly enhanced our design and delivery capabilities in the last one year and look forward to providing state of the art locally designed and manufactured solutions to the regional market.

What new services and initiatives have you introduced during the year? What new concepts is Acme planning to introduce in future?

We have grown our range of products that we design and manufacture in the UAE extensively over the past year. In our R&D facility in Jebel Ali, we have developed a complete range of tote as well as pallet conveyor systems, automated storage and retrieval solutions such as stacker cranes as well as high density pallet shuttle systems. We intend to continue expanding our range as we see the need for manufacturing intralogistics solutions in the region, to allow for faster implementation and customised solutions that can only be warranted by an on-ground provider.

We are also in advanced stages of developing AGV solutions for pallet movement and expect to bring it to market soon. Besides, we have expanded our distribution partnerships with world-class manufacturers and are continuing to build new partnerships. We have recently tied up with Hanwha Robotics to launch their collaborative robotics solutions in the region and look forward to working with local businesses who want to take small steps into automation and would like to invest in highly customisable and user-friendly robotic systems.

What was Acme Intralog's approximate turnover in 2020? To what would you attribute the increase or decrease in the turnover? What is your expected turnover in 2021?

We had an over 20 per cent increase on YoY turnover between 2019 and 2020. With businesses focusing on incorporating automation into their manufacturing and warehouse operations we expect a similar increase of top line in 2021 in comparison to 2020. The added focus on industrialisation in the region gives us confidence in the growth of the automation industry throughout MENA. With the opening of our sales office in Germany, we look forward to delivering automation components to solution integrators in Europe. We expect this to grow substantially and will be part of our long-term focus too.

What collaborations does Acme have with companies including those based in the West? Are you planning any new alliances/joint ventures internationally?

We have established partnerships with a number of high-quality suppliers predominantly from Europe over the past years already. For most, we are the exclusive distributor in the region, which helps shortening delivery times of their parts for our customers drastically, while we also rely on the parts of some of these partners when designing our own solutions.

To name a few: Axelent, a Sweden-based safety specialist and provider for industrial fencing and machine guarding; Schmalz innovative vacuum handling systems from Germany; Optimus Sorters, a Dutch specialist for sortation solutions; Habasit, the world’s number one when it comes to belting from Switzerland; Leuze, a reliable German producer of sensor technology; Metalwork Pneumatic Italy providing quality pneumatic components; Kardex Remstar, dynamic storage and retrieval systems made in Switzerland; and Hanwha Robotics – Collaborative robotic solutions from S. Korea.

We will soon be announcing a few more exciting new partnerships very soon as we expand our automation vertical further.

Which industrial sector accounted for most of your contract work for companies in their facilities in 2020, and what was that segment’s percentage share of total turnover in Acme?

We have seen the largest increase coming from the Retail & E-commerce sector – as a lot of companies, including traditional  brick & mortar enterprises adapted to the need of offering an omni-channel experience to their customers. This has triggered most of the quick-thinking retail giants to take steps to rejig their warehouse operations to provide a seamless experience to their customers. We have also seen a large uptick from regional food and beverage manufacturers as well as distributors who have also begun to ramp up their capacities at the same time would like to reduce the amount of workforce on the production floor.

What will the company’s focus be in 2021-22? What are your targets and what will be your strategy to achieve those?

We will continue investing in R&D to develop new solutions to cater to e-commerce fulfillment as well as affordable AGV solutions for both the manufacturing environment as well as for logistics automation. Having worked in this region for over 44 years, we see the need to be flexible and creative to deliver space-optimising, efficiency increasing modular intralogistics solutions that can be scaled as businesses grow. 

We also want to actively contribute to the UAE government’s vision of ‘Operation 300bn’ by helping regional manufacturing companies improve their value addition capabilities at the same time help them be more efficient.

With our recent collaboration with Hanwha Robotics and the release of a full spectrum of cobot-enabled solutions in the region, we look forward to working with local manufacturers to automate mundane production tasks and free up manpower for more value addition on the production shop floor.

Acme Robotic palletisation: inhouse test

How is the surge of e-commerce impacting your business? What has been your response? How are you handling it?

It has had a positive impact for us so far as more businesses have started focusing on their online presence. In addition to e-commerce businesses, traditional brick and mortar businesses have also been upping their game by delivering an omnichannel experience. We, at Acme have a wide range of order fulfillment solutions that are specifically designed to help businesses meet the demands of ecommerce fulfillment and sortation. We are currently delivering fulfillment solutions in the region to one of the largest ecommerce businesses as well as helping a few businesses restructure their business to cater to increased order processing demands associated with the surge from online business.

With a wide range of goods to person solutions, parcel sorters as well as traditional AS/RS solutions we are able to provide customers with tailor made solutions that are designed with industry and regional customisation.

How can robotic solutions provide smaller companies with significant competitive advantages?

The investment for a basic yet efficient industrial robotic solution typically pays off within 3.8 years on average, for larger installations this period shortens. As a rule of thumb, if a robot replaces just 3 headcounts, the return on investment is already higher when implementing automation. Traditionally larger higher throughput production facilities invested in industrial robotics on their shop floor in order to reduce manpower utilisation as well as to boost production throughput. 

With the advent of collaborative robotics solutions, small businesses operating with limited shop floor space can incorporate robotics to help with pick and place operations, palletisation as well as routine assembly work. The added advantage of cobots is that they are easily configurable and can be redeployed easily without much support from system integrators.

How disruption in logistics during Covid has made more companies look to established regional players like Acme for warehousing automation as opposed to hiring companies outside the region.

Customers in the region have traditionally sourced most of their automation solutions from vendors outside the region. We had ramped up our production capabilities in the region by 2019 with an eye to change that. We were well placed to cater to the requirements of customers in the region when Covid radically changed the traditional supply chain. We were able to step up and deliver highly automated robotics solutions manufactured here in

Dubai to a very diverse set of customers with minimal supply chain disruptions. In addition to new system deliveries, we were also able to provide uninterrupted life cycle maintenance support to regional businesses that needed the support to continue operating.

How can a company begin its warehouse automation system?

Every business has its own workflow and processes in place. In turn, it has its own peculiar bottlenecks. Before embarking on automating their facility, the operations team needs to prepare a detailed as-is workflow process as well as identify current pain points. Having access to historical inventory movement data as well as projected future volumes is mandatory to develop a customised automated warehouse solution that delivers quick ROI as well as simplifies operational workflow within the warehouse. 

Once the data has been compiled the team can sit with the planning team of a trusted automation vendor and design a tailor made solution. The solution needs to be thoroughly simulated and tested with multiple scenarios in order to ensure that the concept designed caters to current as well as future volumes. I personally do not believe that an automated facility can be designed from the scratch upwards, with just one meeting between the customer and the automation vendor.

This interview was published in Gulf Industry in September 2021

Posted: September 01, 2021