How Indian startups like Unbox Robotics and TagBox are cracking core and cross-functional supply chain challenges to drive ROI for businesses
In 2019, Pitney Bowes, the global technology company that provides commerce solutions in areas like e-commerce, shipping, mailing, data and financial services, reported that global parcel volume had surpassed 100 billion shipments for the first time. It forecasted that the parcel volume was likely to double and reach 220-262 billion shipments by 2026.
Given the optimism of these projections, the industry needs flexible, compact, and on-demand sorting systems to make shipping faster and efficient. However, most existing sorting systems are challenging when it comes to scaling and require a huge area, money and installation time, explains Pramod Ghadge, CEO and Co-founder of Unbox Robotics, a robotics and automation startup. Unbox Robotics is driving impact with its flagship mobile robotics sorting solution to redefine sorting systems.
How Unbox Robotics is bringing efficiency in packing and sorting systems
“We have built a plug and play solution that can be deployed in less than a week. Using a proprietary swarm intelligence system, the solution leverages machine learning based sorting maps, and high-speed mobile robots that utilise vertical space, the solution can reduce the sorting area required by up to 70% and improve productivity at least by 3x to 5x, giving the best ROI compared to the existing systems or methods,” he says. In order to address the capital bottleneck, Unbox Robotics also offers its clients a subscription model called ‘Robot as a Service’.
Starting in 2019, the Pune-based startup spent the first two years of its journey building the product and getting customers onboard for early trials. The startup is today working with seven enterprises, across sectors like e-commerce, retail and logistics in India, Southeast Asia and the US to deploy its robots through pilots as well as long-term contracts.
“This year, we are launching the solution in the market,” says Pramod. Unbox Robotics prides itself on being benchmarked against the global standard. Over the next three quarters, the startup is looking to develop robotic solutions in the area of picking and bulk material movement. “These are processes adjacent and complementary to the sorting process. And, by developing solutions we can enable efficiency along the value chain.” Here, he says, the startup has a competitive advantage given its expertise and experience in deploying warehouse automation and building cutting-edge software and hardware systems to suit package sorting operations.
How the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the demand for automation in supply chain
The challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the need for affordable and efficient supply chain automation solutions, especially for e-commerce, retail and logistics industry, shares Pramod. “The reverse migration of migrant labourers led to a shortage of skilled labour. Plus, the challenges of containing infections within the workforce and an acceleration in online shopping has made automation a necessity. It is no longer a want but a need for players across all sizes. This is true for global markets as well as for India,” he says. Hence, the decision to go for a market launch of the solution. Unbox Robotics is looking to drive growth in India and global markets with an immediate focus on small and medium sorting and fulfilment centers where a lot of their competitors’ solutions may not make sense financially to these businesses.
TagBox, a startup that is making supply chains smarter and more reliable, echoes a similar experience. The pandemic did not leave any negative impact on their revenue growth. “We have grown steadily for the last three years. In 2020, despite the impact of COVID-19, our revenue rose by almost 3X. This sends a signal that businesses, especially in India, want to get digitised to achieve higher quality, traceability, and operational efficiency,” says Adarsh Kumar, Co-Founder and CEO, TagBox.
How TagBox is enabling organisations to make their supply chains smarter and more reliable
Launched in 2016, TagBox initially sensed the opportunity in addressing supply chain challenges in the cold chain industry, especially related to monitoring and bringing end-to-end traceability of critical pharmaceutical products. However, today, TagBox has expanded its scope and has developed solutions to improve the entire supply chain and operations not just for the cold chain segment but across F&B, pharmaceuticals, hi-tech/industrial, logistics, and discrete manufacturing segments. TagBox’s first flagship solution Boxlens, a supply chain monitoring IoT platform, is helping organisations solve three key challenges - product quality and compliance, end-to-end traceability, and operational efficiency. An interesting aspect about the platform is that it not only helps in improving the visibility of the products and assets, but also the process and environment in which they operate. The use cases range from enabling improvement in temperature compliance for cold chains, to a reduction in spoilage of perishables and damage to fragile goods and higher visibility of supply chain assets even at a granular level like pallets, bins, and boxes.
A key factor that makes TagBox stand apart in the market is that, unlike other IoT or supply chain solution providers, the startup provides an integrated solution that includes hardware, software, analytics, and AI, which ensures a seamless experience for its customers.
TagBox provides a completely wireless hardware setup and a fully configurable software platform. The solution can also be contextualised and customised to meet the business’ requirements. The other key factors are the capabilities of the digital analytics platform itself and the ability to monitor at a level of granularity that the business demands.
“We focus on insights and recommendations, rather than just collecting the data. The software is capable of blending data from multiple sources and helps to pre-build predictive models. The wireless sensor stack also makes it possible to monitor at a box level and also enable deployment for different types of applications such as monitoring temperature compliance and traceability of COVID-19 vaccine shipments, tracking cold chain integrity of e-commerce grocery orders or identifying the root cause of product damage of each consumer appliance SKU” says Adarsh.
Today, with 40+ customers backing TagBox, the startup has achieved a scale that only a handful of startups in the IoT and supply chain domain have. Given that the pandemic has only further reinstated the need for the adoption of tech solutions in the supply chain, the road ahead looks exciting for the startup. “While we will continue to build and scale in the Asia Pacific market which has been our base so far, we are looking to expand into the US market too as we believe that it could help a startup like TagBox explore new avenues. With only a couple of competitors, there is a very large playing field which we can tap into,” shares Adarsh.
While tapping into the demand for monitoring critical supply chains will continue to be a “cash cow” for the startup, Boxlens is now a fairly mature product trusted by many companies and the startup is looking to drive a second product line in the man-machine interaction space. He says, “We are looking to drive impact in the area of real-time asset tracking, asset utilisation monitoring and employee safety and productivity monitoring, among others. We want to explore Augmented Intelligence use cases, for example - monitoring if the authorised and skilled personnel are working on appropriate machines at the scheduled time. And, this is where we believe the next phase of growth for TagBox will come from.”
A leap in their growth journey
With the strength of their solutions, the industry demand for automation and the supply-chain challenges brought about by the pandemic have been instrumental in driving the growth story of the two startups. Their selection into Flipkart Leap - the startup accelerator programme by leading e-commerce giant Flipkart - has been an added advantage. For instance, for Unbox Robotics the 16-week accelerator engagement has translated into a stronger go-to-market strategy and put a structure and strategy in place to scale up its team and culture.
“When we got into the programme, we were at a stage where we were still defining a lot of the processes and building foundations on aspects such as business model, pricing, culture, etc. We felt that the guidance and mentorship from leaders at Flipkart would help us solve these challenges,” says Pramod. While the startup will also be implementing a pilot w.r.t. deployment of its sorting robots, Pramod says for Unbox Robotics the accelerator programme was an opportunity to look at Flipkart beyond a customer and vendor relationship and tap into their business and growth expertise.
For TagBox which had already worked with Flipkart on a project that aimed to reduce product damage to heavy appliances, the selection presented an opportunity to explore the possibility of scaling up the project. Secondly, the startup saw an opportunity to showcase the potential impact that TagBox can drive for the Flipkart Grocery Store’s supply chain. “To simply put, initially we saw a clear proof of concept opportunity with the Flipkart Leap programme. But with time, we realised that there was an opportunity to explore use cases in the various layers of e-commerce supply chain management, something which they hadn’t forayed into earlier,” says TagBox’s Adarsh. Today, the startup has been able to put into action each of those intents. “We got a contract to scale our Heavy Appliances project. We are also exploring opportunities across other segments like the Flipkart Grocery Store.”
The founders say the road ahead looks exciting and here the Flipkart Leap programme has emerged as a catalyst to drive their growth story further.