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Jeroen Dekker | Managing Partner and Co-founder | Active Ants

Active Ants: Redefining the Logistics of e-fulfillment with Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR)

The world has been experiencing the pros of technological advancements in every sector, be it digital or any industry for that matter. Each one has established its unique position in the market for its specialized features.

In the world of transportation and logistics, the goal is to minimize human workers, make it more efficient, and ease operations on the floor. Additionally, utilizing autonomous robots in the supply chain at the storage facilities and making the process much easier and more productive.

With a similar belief, to enhance the operation and establish exceptional logistics, Jeroen Dekker, the Founder, accompanied by his business partner, Jean Lahaye, gave birth to an e-fulfillment logistics company named Active Ants.

As the name implies, Active Ants are work-around autonomous mobile robots, also referred to as AMRs. The warehouse has four ants working with precision. These include Worker Ants, Carry Ants, and Packing Ants, with just one human worker as an Active Ant.

Active Ant warehouses have a capacity of 200,000 bins in a fully functional 20,000 square meters of pure e-commerce logistics. The transportation within the storage is also executed by AMRs to minimize human error while maximizing proficiency in operations.

The machinery is so prompt and effortless in automated packing, customized printing, automated sorting, and much more. The operations are tailored for sustainability with qualitative efficiency, also called “Webshop Fulfillment.” Sounds interesting, right?

Let’s take a magnified look at the AMR-centered logistics of Active Ants and learn more through the interview highlights:

Please brief our audience about Active Ants, its USPs, and how it is currently positioned as one of the most reliable companies in the fulfillment services sector.

Active Ants is currently the most Efficient and Innovative E-fulfilment company on the market. Our high adoption of robots and automatization through machines makes us one of the most reliable fulfillment companies in the sector. It all started around 7 years ago when we integrated the AutoStore, one of our biggest USPs, into our process.

The AutoStore, a cube-shaped framework in which plastic bins are placed on top and next to each other, gives us the possibility to store products 600% more efficiently than traditional warehouse solutions. On top of the framework, drive robots that bring the separate bins with products to our operators in the picking stations.

Because every robot knows exactly which product lies in which bin, our picking process is flawless. Next to that, because of the robots, our employees don’t have to walk for miles through traditional shelves to pick (complete) orders.

Once the AutoStore became a huge success, we decided to take it one step further. The processing of the orders, from picking to packing and eventually shipping, could be (more, better and more efficiently) automated as well. Therefore, we decided to make the whole process, from picking to sorting, automated.

It starts with 3D cameras that measure every product going into the AutoStore. Once an order comes in, a program starts to ‘play Tetris’ with the ordered products to choose the smallest shipping box possible. This shipping box is set up by a machine and picked up by an AMR robot.

The AMR robot brings the open shipping box to the picking station. At the picking station, the products are picked directly into the shipping box. Once complete, the AMR robot brings the box to the automated packing machines.

Here, the machines first measure how much ‘room’ is left in the shipping box. The sides of the box get cut accordingly and folded inside to pack as less air as possible. This way, we save at least 30% per package in excess air and, therefore, room in the Delivery Trucks.

The shipping box is sealed by a lid. The shipping label is printed directly on this lid, which saves excess labels. Apart from that, the rest of the lid can be printed in full color, completely to the liking of our client. Design can be changed within hours, which gives our clients huge possibilities concerning customer experience and building a relationship with the customer. Once the order is packed by the machines, the AMR robot will sort the package to the proper last-mile carrier.

Share with us your mission and vision statements.

More efficient and higher quality order processing through automation and robotization.

Tell us more about your service and solutions offerings. Also, what are the key benefits offered by your company to its clients?

We offer multi-client e-commerce fulfillment for small to medium webshops. We offer higher-quality fulfillment because our process is (almost) completely automated. This minimizes the chance of mistakes.

Next to that, our cross-border expertise is a big advantage for our clients. We can give them better prices for last-mile delivery and much more (international) options.

Also, with different facilities throughout Europe, we are now able to offer a multi-warehouse solution. This means we allow our clients to divide their stock over our different facilities, and therefore being closer to their (international) end-consumers.

Lastly, the possibility to personalize packaging through our automated packing machines is a huge advantage for webshops. First and foremost because it helps with the customer experience and customer retention, but also because it’s way easier and cheaper to brand the packaging.

Otherwise, webshops would have to do everything themselves and then also pay for the storage of their branded packaging.

Please tell us about your (featured person’s) journey and how you have helped with the development and enhancement of the outreach of your company.

Jeroen Dekker is the founder, together with his business partner, Jean Lahaye, of Active Ants. After they developed and managed the first webshop (ever!) in the Netherlands, they found that the logistical processes behind these webshops still lacked the needed capacity and know-how. They took their learnings from their webshop and started building Active Ants, still named Alpak Shop services at that time.

Their main thought was, ‘How amazing would it be if we could automate the complete logistical (order) process for webshops.’ And so, it started. First, a Warehouse Management System was built, Maya, which is still the key software component of the company. After that, they started innovating more with the implementation of the AutoStore and now the completely automated warehouses that we’ve opened in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and shortly the United Kingdom.

As an experienced leader, share your opinion on how the adoption of advanced technologies has impacted the fulfillment services sector and how your company is adapting to the change.

We ARE the change. We were one of the first companies to implement the AutoStore in such a way that we do. And we are the first company to have a completely automated processing of orders in place. The use of AMR robots, the way that we do, is unprecedented. These last few years, we’ve seen other companies make big strides as well, although they are mainly focused on one aspect of the process and not the process as a whole. However, we do believe these changes are needed in every business. As the workforce grows slimmer and the motivation for people to work in places such as a warehouse is declining rapidly, we need sustainable solutions for the future. The use of robots and automation within E-fulfilment is that solution. Employees walking for miles through isles without bathroom breaks, and stressing out because of unreasonable KPIs, should be something of the past and these solutions will make that possible.

In your view, what are the existing challenges for the fulfillment services sector in your operating region? And how are you strategizing your company’s operations to overcome them?

Sustainability as a whole. In the first place, the employees deserve proper working conditions. On the other hand, the environment itself. E-commerce is still growing and will keep growing exponentially in the coming years. A sustainable solution to reduce the footprint of all the companies involved in E-commerce is much needed because order volumes will only increase. And with that also the amount of waste, delivery trucks, and other unwanted CO2 emissions.

We as a company are in very close contact with all of our clients to reduce our footprint more and more. The way we pack our orders, and the general set-up of our process, already contribute a lot, but we want to take further responsibility. Therefore we actively advise clients on how they can reduce their footprint, like signing up for a Recycle program in the countries they operate.

And, of course, we keep looking at how we can reduce our footprint. That’s why we’ve, for example, rented a BREAM-certified warehouse in the UK and achieved the same certification for our facility in Roosendaal, the Netherlands.

As an established industry leader, what would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts aspiring to venture into the fulfillment services sector?

Think hard about which kind of clients you’d like to service. Starting with the question if you’d want to go for ‘contract logistics’ or ‘multi-client logistics.’ And after that, which ‘niche’ you’d like to focus on? The number of webshops is still growing in every country, but the market is getting more mature.

Webshop entrepreneurs know better and better what they want and how they want to position themselves. The era of the ‘attic-webshop-entrepreneurs’ is slowly passing, and professionalism within the market is rising quickly. As a fulfillment provider, this means that one solution doesn’t fit all anymore. You’d have to find out what are key ingredients for your target (niche) group are and focus on that.

How do you envision scaling Active Ant’s services in 2022 and beyond?

We’re far from done. After our expansion to the UK, many other countries are still on the agenda. And, as said, we keep looking for ways to innovate further within our processes, so we can keep reducing our footprint and make it more employee-friendly.

Please give us a few testimonials from your clients/customers and a list of awards/recognitions that accurately highlight your organization’s position in the market.

Awards: Second place on the Transport & Logistics Awards in Belgium in the category Logistics Project of the Year 2022.