Technology

Microfulfillment Goes Underground

Tel Aviv facility could provide U.S. preview
Photograph courtesy of Fabric

E-commerce, which has challenged food retailers to meet consumers wherever they happen to be, is making a similar demand of the fulfillment solutions they use. One vision for solving the latter problem can now be found in the basement of a Tel Aviv skyscraper, where an automated pick center has begun fulfilling online grocery orders for the Rami Levy grocery chain.

Officials of Fabric, formerly Commonsense Robotics, said the 18,000-square-foot space using proprietary robotics demonstrates not only superior economic efficiency in preparing orders but also the ability to do so out of well-located but underutilized and oddly shaped real estate near where shoppers live and work, cutting facility and delivery costs as well.

Fabric, founded in Israel, earlier this year established U.S. headquarters in New York and is at work on similar facilities meant to provide logistics as a service to enable local delivery. Company officials said they also envision building similar dedicated facilities for U.S. grocers.

The Tel Aviv facility, located in a 34-story center-city office tower, went live this week. Fabric officials highlighted the site’s unique physical characteristics—a triangular space with low ceilings—as an example of the flexibility of its solution, as opposed to its microfulfillment competitors in the space that require more rigid design parameters.

“It has become clear to retailers that they need automation close to their customers in order to be profitable, but there is now a new demand for flexibility,” Steve Hornyak, Fabric’s chief commercial officer, said in a press release. “Retailers face uncertainty every direction they look with the rapid onset of e-commerce, and they need a partner and solution that is able to meet their needs today while changing dynamically as their needs evolve tomorrow.”

Fabric said the facility will fulfill hundreds of orders a day, including fresh, ambient, chilled and frozen items, and its proximity to shoppers could provide deliveries in as a little as an hour. Fabric said the new site would help Rami LevyIsreal’s third-largest supermarket chainpenetrate an area where it does not operate brick-and-mortar stores.

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