25 November  •

Robots | The future is now!

Royal Lemkes is the plant service partner of choice for major European retailers such as IKEA, OBI, Kingfisher, ALDI, Jumbo and Praxis. Working together with 600 growers, Royal Lemkes supplies more than 125 million plants to 4,000 stores across 36 countries each year. For its retail partners, a successful, future-proof plant category rests on optimisation and cost reduction in the supply chain, quick turnaround time and error-free performance. To achieve this and address the growing labour shortage, Royal Lemkes is investing heavily in robotisation. Mobile robots from Lowpad allow the company to uniquely automate and optimise its operational processes.

Complex operational process
In recent years, Royal Lemkes has been looking for opportunities to realise a state-of-the-art distribution process. Operational staff spend a lot of time registering incoming plants, allocating them according to customer/country and scanning, distributing and loading plants onto trolleys. Together, Royal Lemkes’ 300 operational employees cover about 5,000 kilometres per day.

However, thanks to robotisation, the company now has a new and more efficient way of registering and distributing plants. By automating the process with Lowpads, the right trolleys with incoming and outgoing plants are presented to employees at the right moment. Staff no longer have to walk 16 kilometres per day or move heavy Danish trolleys.

Current labour shortages also underline the need to invest in robotisation. Cees van der Meij, owner of Royal Lemkes, explains: “With the shortage of temporary workers, it’s becoming even more important to integrate robots into our operational processes. This allows us to manage these processes more efficiently and find a better balance between permanent staff and automation. It also improves the work environment and makes it enjoyable for our staff.”

Unique and efficient robotics system
Realising the importance of extensive mechanisation and robotisation, Lowpad and Royal Lemkes have entered into a unique collaboration. Royal Lemkes brought its own IT and software to the table and Lowpad its years of experience in warehouse automation solutions. The first step was to implement Argos, a smart vision system from Lowpad.

At Royal Lemkes. Argos scans all incoming trolleys. It counts the number of plants on each trolley, recognises individual plants, registers their heights and takes photos. The Argos system helps to efficiently manage product flow, reduce errors and process larger volumes. It streamlines processes between growers, Royal Lemkes and its retail partners and establishes a firm foundation for optimising and innovating operational processes.

Lowpads: no floor infrastructure required
In 2021, Royal Lemkes began the second part of the robotisation process: a pilot with Lowpads. Lowpads are ultra-low mobile robots that are strong enough to move Danish trolleys. These one-of-a-kind robots are equipped with innovative technologies and smart software for navigation and localisation.

Lowpads are a flexible and scalable solution and do not require any infrastructural changes; all they need is a flat floor. The Lowpad system recognises every centimetre of the floor and knows exactly where it is, down to the millimetre.

Successfully deploying robotics in an organisation requires everyone to pull together, from IT to facility management, right through to the people working with the robots”, says Cees van der Meij. “In other words, the process requires organisational change management.”

Smart human-robot interaction
Combining the data collected by Argos with Royal Lemkes’ own software affords a unique opportunity: employees and Lowpads can work together seamlessly thanks to a targeted, data-driven approach that manages the entire order picking and distribution process.

Employees receive clear information telling them exactly which plants to move and to which location. Lowpads handle the transport; employees handle the order picking. Unlike closed distribution systems, Lowpad offers an open system that enables humans and robots to successfully collaborate in the workplace.

Cees van der Meij concludes: “This is only phase one. Royal Lemkes is ready for further growth and rollouts across other processes. Using technology and robotics allows us to offer our retail partners and growers an even better proposition and to set our sights on the future.”