Heico Sandee: Smart Robotics is a market-leading specialist in robotics and warehouse automation

January 12, 2023

Founded in 2015, Smart Robotics is a market-leading specialist in robotics and warehouse
automation. We offer robotic pick and place solutions that are designed with the promise of our smart technology to improve reliability of warehouse operations, increase capacity, and to alleviate the pressures of the labour shortage across Logistics.

Our pick and place solutions help improve working conditions for floor workers by taking over repetitive and physically strenuous tasks, such as order picking, packing, palletizing, and sorting.

Our goal is to enhance working conditions for warehouse employees. That’s why our robots and cobots are designed to seamlessly integrate with the day-to-day operations of the warehouse and to raise the standards of the employee experience.

The systems are easy-to-use, no matter your experience with robotics! Anyone can interact with them and manage the system.

This way you don’t need to be a robotics technician to work with these technologies. Innovation in this area has been paramount to Smart Robotics’ success, and a large part of this comes down to providing our customers with easy-to-use solutions.

We now have customers in 15+ countries, from around the world, and our team of 70+ employees continues to grow.

Tell us about yourself?

I’m Heico Sandee, CTO and co-founder of Smart Robotics. After attending Eindhoven University of Technology, I worked at Canon and at Alten as a Technical Manager.

I have a PhD degree, with more than 15 years of experience in robotics development. Previously, I was the program manager for robotics at Eindhoven University of Technology, for three years, and also platform manager at RoboNed, now part of Holland Robotics – the Dutch robotics platform.

Smart Robotics was born from the observation that the robotics industry lacks solutions that address the need for flexibility and functionality.

Automation and robotics needed a new perspective, one that allowed for a greater integrated approach to solving problems in the warehousing sector.

Since founding Smart Robotics, our focus has largely been on developing solutions that take on a human-centric approach and that truly enhance the functionality and effectiveness of different areas across logistics.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

I would be more focused on long-term collaborations with customers and partners.

It’s important to be agile and flexible, so that you can better scale alongside the people and businesses you work closely with. Having a purely short-term vision counts in nobody’s favour.

It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now, but keeping that future vision in mind helps you stay set on your goals.

You have to engage in strategic planning with your customers and partners, building roadmaps together, understanding how their markets evolve and how you also need to adapt for these changes.

This all has to run in parallel with how you build forth on your technology. It’s not something that happens automatically, logistics can have a very short term focus, but we are taking good steps in improving this.

What problem does your business solve?

Compared to other industries, the Logistics industry has been quite late to embrace automation and is now looking at a rapid transition to modern processes.

The standard conveyor belt and general machinery have always been around, but truly innovative solutions to everyday problems employees face, regarding their physical and mental well-being, have been in short supply.

Not only is the logistics industry experiencing greater labour shortages, repetitive tasks in
warehouses are also having long-term effects on the health and performance of employees
engaging in physically straining work.

For example, palletizing and depalletizing heavy parcels or simply having to walk long distances in the warehouse do not only carry health and safety risks, these activities also take up a large portion of the employees’ day.

Our solutions are focused on improving the working conditions for employees and to create
better opportunities for them to learn a new skill, such as developing their understanding of
robotics in practice.

By having robotic solutions take over repetitive tasks like parcel picking,
employees have more capacity in their day to focus on tasks that require greater critical
thinking.

Picking items in warehouses is a repetitive process that’s hard-wearing on the people who manually execute this task. Instead, automation can enable warehouse employees to tend to the robotised systems, rather than wearing themselves out by picking and sorting items manually.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

All robot deployments in industry up to a couple of years ago were based on very rudimentary technology – hard coded behaviour for fully conditioned environments, and built with a super narrow task focus.

These cannot address the more difficult challenges we are facing in logistics, like achieving optimised throughput capacity.

Combine this with the enormous increase in labour needs across logistics and you have a very intricate problem to solve. The curiosity, let alone the challenge, inspired me.

For warehouse employees carrying out repetitive manual labour tasks, we want to introduce
reliable robots and cobots that ease up the job.

For the industry at large, robotic systems are able to run continuously, meaning they don’t suffer from any health and safety concerns and they can go 24/7 without taking a break.

This creates the potential of faster return on investment – whilst answering the labour crisis in Logistics, without neglecting the physical and mental health of warehouse employees. Essentially, warehouse throughput is optimised and parcel handling capacity is improved.

What is your magic sauce?

Our pick and place solutions are capable of handling items at a pace that matches and exceeds human pickers, with very little oversight needed.

The system ensures reliable and uninterrupted operation and doesn’t require any special training from its operators. Not to mention, our solutions can be safely managed by all employees, regardless of their skill levels.

Our solutions are developed in-house and are based on our smart technology and we don’t
supply a single technology (vision system, gripper, robot, etc), but a fully integrated solution that is configured for each specific project.

With enhanced vision, motion and task planning, our robotic systems are smarter in their abilities to adapt alongside the dynamic environments they are introduced to, like changes in assortment.

As such, the solutions are capable of working in the real world of warehouses, instead of a predefined (coded) environment.

Smart Robotics has been developing picking applications since 2015, and is confident that our solutions ensure more reliability in highly demanding logistics, thanks to our team of highly skilled developers and programmers.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

We’ve recently rolled out multiple new products, with many more to come, and are working with our partners to develop specialised solutions for underserved markets.

We have a particular focus on the parcel carrier and handling industry, especially looking at ways to improve warehouse operations for the retail and e-commerce sector.

For example, the Smart Parcel Picker is but one of the many solutions we have in the pipeline to make warehouse automation more versatile and dynamic in a highly performant Logistics industry.

We want to become a one-stop-shop picking provider for logistics, providing solutions for any picking task! That’s the long-term goal.

For the immediate market, we’re very focused on supporting the human workforce and making their daily activities more manageable, not having them conduct physically demanding tasks, but rather free up time for them to engage in more critical thinking activities, such as creative problem solving or further skill development.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

The Covid-19 pandemic presented interesting challenges any young startup would understand. New technology is developing all the time, coupled with changing customers habits and with a huge need for solutions but not enough time to innovate.

We had to change course in how we think about the market we’re serving. The industry has since settled. The e-commerce market is not growing as rapidly as it was during Covid, creating some breathing room for us.

We can now prioritise a cost saving focus for our clients, where our robots fit in perfectly. Especially with our picking automation as a service offering.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

We’re always on the lookout for new partners and customers who want to collaborate on
optimising their pick and place stations in their warehouse.

We’re particularly interested in working with partners to further develop configurations of the Smart Parcel Picker, a robot designed to improve service delivery in the Parcel Carrier industry.

You can reach us by visiting our website and filling out the contact form. Alternatively, email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

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