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Robots: The Warehouse Workers of the Near Future

Thursday, 22 September, 2016

The story involves a logistics company and grocery empire run by a modest New England billionaire. Most people will be unfamiliar with Symbotic LLC and Rick Cohen and C&S Wholesale Grocers but they are at the forefront of a move to show that that robots can manage the storing, handling and hauling of goods that retailers deal with in vast amounts each year.

Fully Autonomous Robots: The Warehouse Workers of the Near Future by Robbie Whelan of the Wall Street Journal describes Cohen’s brave new vision: “His strategy has two prongs: Install robots in C&S warehouses to serve grocery chains, and sell them to companies that have their own distribution facilities. Over the next year, Symbotic plans to roll out nearly a dozen fully-automated food warehouses across the country from Pennsylvania to California, serving grocery chains.”

One of Symbotic’s selling points is what it calls “Capital Recovery”, which goes like this:

“Often companies find that an automation system optimizes their operations enough to justify combining two warehouses into one. Additionally, the capital they can recover from selling the second warehouse can offset the cost of the system. The capital recovery model allows customers to exceed their operational demands while recovering capital from unnecessary facilities and/or resources.”

Robbie Whelan points out that Rick Cohen’s success is driven by his fascination with fat — not of midriff variety, but of the administrative kind:

Mr. Cohen said he became interested in robotics because of a lifelong passion for cutting fat at his family business. His grandfather, Israel Cohen, founded C&S in Worcester, Mass., in 1918. Mr. Cohen became CEO in 1989 and is sole owner.

“Taking waste out is fascinating to me,” Mr. Cohen said. “I walk through a warehouse, and everyone sees what’s happening, and I see what’s not happening.”

Typically, the Daily Mail trashed Rick Cohen’s privacy when it published “Revealed, America’s most modest billionaire: Tycoon worth $11bn is so down-to-earth that neighbors don’t recognize him – on street where average home is $294,000.”


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