Take a tour around the new ‘warehouse of tomorrow’ powered by robots in Northampton

The Chronicle & Echo took a tour around the state-of-the-art premises in Brackmills to watch the little robots in action
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

A new ‘warehouse of tomorrow’ opened its doors today to show the media around its “revolutionary” e-fulfilment centre in Northampton, where humans and robots work together.

Active Ants opened the state-of-the-art 250,000 sq ft facility in the Brackmills Industrial Estate on May 3 with the help of former Northampton mayor councillor Dennis Meredith.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Active Ants was founded by Netherland entrepreneurs, Jeroen Dekker and Jean Lahaye, in 2010. They believed that traditional pick-and-pack warehouses were not a sustainable answer to the rapidly growing eco-market.

Co-founder of Active Ants, Jean Lahaye inside the 250,000 sq ft warehouse in Brackmills.Co-founder of Active Ants, Jean Lahaye inside the 250,000 sq ft warehouse in Brackmills.
Co-founder of Active Ants, Jean Lahaye inside the 250,000 sq ft warehouse in Brackmills.

So, what was the answer? Robots.

“When we started this warehouse, we wanted to change the industry,” Jeroen Dekker told the Chronicle & Echo, “We wanted to do it in a different way because traditional picking and packing means pushing people through warehouses; they have to walk 20 miles a day doing very hard work and it's not sustainable at all - not for humans but also not for the nature.

“We thought of the new model where we give the heavy boring work to robots and the smarter, lighter work - we still do it by people.”

Active Ants claims that their warehouses can store up to six times as much as traditional warehouses.

The Active Ants warehouse in the Brackmills Industrial Estate.The Active Ants warehouse in the Brackmills Industrial Estate.
The Active Ants warehouse in the Brackmills Industrial Estate.

So, how does it work?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Goods received by the warehouse are unpacked, checked and inspected manually before being placed into an auto store grid, which has 60,000 dust and theft-proof bins.

Recycled flat-pack cardboard boxes are erected by machines in the ‘box erecting station’ in different sizes.

Carrier robots then transfer the assembled boxes to ‘pick ports’ so that products can be placed inside them. They are fitted with weighing scales so they can recognise when a product is incorrect.

Meanwhile, the auto store grid robots will pick the goods needed from the bins and transfer them down to the pick port. There, human workers place the products into their delegated boxes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The carrier robots then transfer the full boxes to a ‘packing station’, where a machine takes a photo of the contents of the box and sends an email to the recipient letting them know their order is being packed.

A packing machine then cuts the storage box down to size, folds it, glues on a lid and places a custom-printed label on top. This means each package is tailor made to each product size so there is no wasted space in transit or a need for void-fillers.

This newspaper talked to Active Ants county director, Khalil Ashong, to walk us through the process. Watch the video interview above.

While this futuristic warehouse requires less human employees than traditional warehouses, Mr Dekker claims their model is more sustainable.

He said: “Traditional picking and packing, they have a lot of problems getting in the right people and getting in enough people especially during peak season like November and December. We just cannot find enough people so what the industry does is go abroad, bring people in for two or three months and send them back.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We say let's combine robots and humans and get the work done together.”

The warehouse is powered by 1,000 solar panels, uses recycled cardboard and its car park has electric charging points.

Northampton is Active Ants’ fifth UK location - with other centres in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Find out more about Active Ants by visiting https://www.activeants.com/.