Attabotics: How leafcutter ants inspired supply chain innovation

A veteran, a nurse and a construction worker walked into a bar. In fact, only one person entered the bar: Scott Gravelle.

Gravelle can be described as a master of many crafts, but his current passion may well revolutionize the supply chain industry — he’s the CEO of Attabotics.

Attabotics, founded in 2016, focuses on redesigning the layout of warehouses and distribution centers to use patented storage structures, navigated by robotic shuttles that can move horizontally and vertically. According to the company, Attabotics can reduce a company’s warehouse needs by 85%.

The Alberta company has already entered into partnerships with companies such as Microsoft, Accenture and Synergy Design & Integration.

How Gravelle ended up in the supply chain industry is special, given that he began his career with a nursing background.

Scott Gravelle, CEO of Attabotics (Courtesy of Attabotics)

“I worked at [the] healthcare and new home construction industries for years. But when computer-controlled equipment came along and started dominating manufacturing, I didn’t want to be moved by it,” he said. “So I decided I would get good at it. So I became like a Dr Dolittle from [Computer Numerical Control] machinery. You know, I can talk to animals, so to speak.

Gravelle, who has no supply chain experience, ended up with a “crazy idea” for 3D robotics.

“I spent two years trying to find a good reason not to because it scared me – and I couldn’t find the fucking reason,” he said.

Initially, Gravelle wanted to create enough storage capacity to add robotic arms to the end of a manufacturing line to store components. So he contacted Kiva Systems to do just that – and was hung up.

It turned out that Kiva Systems had just been acquired by Amazon for $775 million. Gravelle needed a new plan. Fortunately, he had another idea.

“So looking at what was happening across the industry, just out of curiosity, I saw that almost everything was a derivative of a human-centric environment. In manufacturing, you don’t usually want not involving robots and people,” Gravelle said. “You want to create a cell that the robot becomes the robot and that’s where it’s really effective. And trying to mix robots and people in manufacturing, historically, that was difficult.

This has become Attabotics’ guiding principle – a redesigned environment can increase efficiency and new technologies have a dedicated space to operate.

According to Attabotics, the greatly reduced need for wide warehousing spaces will allow companies to move distribution centers to cities, eliminating the need to isolate themselves in rural areas. Gravelle said the move would also reduce environmental impacts across the industry.

“If we are a shorter distance to deliver goods to the consumer, not only do we increase the experience, but the saving of jet fuel, concrete, steel, diesel fuel greatly reduces the overall environmental impact of cars modern,” he said. .

Gravelle was inspired by organisms in nature, particularly leafcutter ants. While watching a nature documentary, Gravelle noted how the network of tunnels dug by the ants extended vertically instead of horizontally.

Attabotics structure inside a warehouse (Courtesy Attabotics)

But changing the layout of a warehouse to a more vertical layout poses a new problem: human safety. That’s how Gravelle’s AI-driven 3D robotics came into play.

“Let’s get rid of the lifting, the repetitive tasks, the pushing, the 15 miles of walking every day,” he said. “Let’s stop turning people into robots and let them, you know, do human jobs.”

According to Gravelle, including robotics in the manufacturing environment would not decrease the number of jobs available to humans. In light of an ongoing labor shortage in warehouses, robotics can be the first step towards a safer warehouse workplace.

“We just want to create as much value as possible for the people who, you know, are participating in using the system and experiencing this system,” he said.

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