J-Elephant, an advanced manufacturer of “next-generation forklift autonomous mobile robots (AMRs)” and a leader in this category, has recently announced the completion of nearly RMB 100 million of Angel and Pre-A rounds of fundraising. The Angel Round was invested by Sequoia China Seed Fund, Legend Star, and Sinovation Ventures. The Pre-A round was joined by Linear Capital, Challenjers Venture, and existing shareholders Sequoia Capital and Legend Star
Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, Chairman, and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, said that “Intelligent logistics has entered the first year of explosive commercialization because of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The logistics transportation industry supports the backbone of people’s livelihood and ensures the flow of production elements. It is in dire need of transformation and upgrading toward intelligent operations through AI and automation technologies. Intelligent logistics transportation not only affects people's daily lives but also plays an indispensable role in the industrial supply chain. China is pushing the world toward smart manufacturing, and the next generation of intelligent logistics will be a vital engine for China to drive domestic economic circulation and the next global industrial revolution. Sinovation Ventures has been investing in intelligent transportation areas for years. J-Elephant is building excellent capabilities and functionalities of its next-generation forklifts AMRs to practice in contactless logistics, automated warehousing, quick-response supply chain, and other scenarios.
Bob REN, Executive Director of Sinovation Ventures and General Manager of Frontier Tech Fund, said that the Robotics Lab under Sinovation Ventures AI Institute has been incubating projects since 2018. Mr. Lyu Feng, the founder of J-Elephant, demonstrates both foresight and resilience. And the core team delivers strong capacity and creativity in creating product positioning, technical breakthrough, and technical definition. J-Elephant has proved its version 3.0 forklift AMRs are suited for rich commercialization scenarios and broad market potential, as its products have been adopted by many of the world’s top 500 companies as flagship customers. As forklift AMRs gradually enter a period of explosive commercialization, we expect J-Elephant will lead the transition of China’s autonomous forklift industry toward the 3.0 era and become a dark horse among China’s intelligent logistics solutions players.
Compared with conventional manual forklifts and forklift AGVs, the world’s first forklift AMR independently developed by J-Elephant has multiple unique bottom-up innovations in the industry. For example, it is characterized by no blind spots, greater flexibility, and safer operations. Coupled with proprietary IoTs and the JMS industrial intelligent digital platform, J-Elepent provides manufacturing enterprises with an integrated software and hardware solution for intelligent logistics. These innovations indicate that the unmanned forklift industry has entered the 3.0 era.
J-Elephant is deeply incubated by the Robotics Lab under Sinovation Ventures AI Institute. The new round of funds will be used for R&D, talent recruitment, mass production capacity building, and business expansion.
1. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the automation of the supply chain: intelligent logistics enter the 1st year of explosive commercialization
The industrial sectors are facing unprecedented labor shortages. According to data from Communiqué on the Fourth National Economic Census released in 2019, the labor structure of China is undergoing tremendous changes. The most prominent indication is that a large number of those employed in the secondary industry (industrial sectors) are turning to the tertiary industry (service sectors). The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought more uncertainties to manufacturing production. More than ever before, manufacturing enterprises are betting on automated solutions to assist manpower to mitigate labor breakdowns and ensure the smooth continuation of economic factors.
Effective logistics is the lifeblood of manufacturing. The time spent on storing, loading, unloading, waiting for processing, and moving accounts for 75% of that for manufacturing. In the meantime, logistics costs take up as much as 30% of the total production cost. The major trends of an increase in labor costs, a need for a flexible supply chain, and the digitalization and intelligent manufacturing technologies are accelerating the automation of logistics. The industry has arrived at a turning point.
The 14th Five‑Year Plan for the Development of the Robotics Industry jointly issued by 15 departments led by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology late last year proposed to double the intensity of robots in the manufacturing industry. Data disclosed by China’s Mobile Robot and AGV/AMR Industry Alliance shows that enterprises in the Chinese market sold a total of 72,000 mobile robots (AGVs/AMRs) for industrial applications in 2021, an increase of 75.61% as compared to 2020; the sales in the market amounted to RMB 12.6 billion (with RMB 2.5 billion worth of products sold overseas), up 64% year on year. Even so, unmanned forklift robot only penetrates less than 1% of the entire industry, with a huge market growth potential in the future.
2. Version 3.0 unmanned forklifts, the optimal solution for intelligent logistics
Core J-Elephant team members come from well-known companies such as Alibaba DAMO Academy, Huawei, China Mobile, and Meituan, with many years of R&D and engineering experience in robotics. Lyu Feng, the company’s founder and CEO, brings 15 years of experience in the field of robotics. He once held managerial positions at the Alibaba DAMO Academy and Sinovation Ventures AI Institute and headed the development of many cutting-edge robotics technologies and products in China and abroad.
Lyu Feng believes that the history of the forklift industry has gone through two generations. Version 1.0 forklifts are manual designs dating back over 100 years to their invention in 1920. Version 2.0 forklifts are forklift AGVs, meeting certain automation needs by laser navigation with reflectors and laser navigation without reflectors.
“Version 2.0 forklift AGVs are definitely conventional forklifts by design, as they are unable to break the limits in driving space, operations efficiency, and safety due to the overall design and means of movement of manual forklifts.”
“Different from manual forklifts and forklift AGVs, J-Elephant’s next-generation unmanned forklift AMR redefines existing products in the market, so it could be called Version 3.0 forklifts,” said Lyu Feng.
J-Elephant’s forklift AMR has several bottom-up innovations pioneered in the industry:
No blind spots. Manual forklifts and forklift AGVs have a blind area of around 25% and 40% respectively. J-Elephant’s forklift AMR completely reconstructs the shape of forklifts for a more comprehensive distribution of sensors, ensuring 360° full coverage of sensors with no visual blind spots.
Greater flexibility. J-Elephant’s forklift AMR has a smaller turning radius than the traditional forklifts. It can rotate at a fixed point, allowing greater flexibility.
Safer operations. Lyu Feng said: “In the U.S., the probability of a forklift encountering a severe accident during its life-cycle is as high as 90%. J-Elephant’s forklift AMR’s extremely compact U-shaped design enables the forklift and the cargo to always move as a whole. Our original design assures better safety protection during operation and lifting. Meanwhile, the forklift has the same center of gravity with or without load, bringing superior stability in operation and higher efficiency.”
J-Elephant supports its forklift AMR with platform-based handling robots and the JMS industrial intelligent digital platform, providing integrated intelligent logistics solutions for both software and hardware. These could be applied to the whole process of material circulation in the manufacturing field.
“J-Elephant’s intelligent logistics solution caters to intelligent manufacturing. Through customization and agile integration into business processes, it could be connected with various existing or future automation tools to effectively lower implementation costs. It makes the materials and information flow simpler, smoother, and more efficient. It also allows production to be more flexible, helping industry clients realize cost reduction and efficiency gains.” said Lyu Feng.
The firm’s new generation of forklift AMRs has been used by many Fortune 500 enterprises as J-Elephant’s flagship customers mainly for transporting mid-sized and large goods, covering pharmaceutical, food, semiconductors, and several other industries. The recognition of and partnership with several leading enterprises give J-Elephant firm confidence and support in transforming the forklift industry.
“In the future, J-Elephant will adhere to the path of advanced manufacturing characterized by independent innovation and SRDI (specialization, refinement, differentiation, and innovation), deeply cultivate the manufacturing industry, and apply the Version 3.0 unmanned forklift to a wider range of application scenarios. From conceptual design, robot selection, schedule configuration, quick response and deployment, and customized business needs, we will empower customers' intelligent manufacturing upgrades, change the century-old history of cargo handling and create the optimal solution for China’s intelligent logistics,” said Lyu Feng.