Case Study: A New Autonomous Bubble Tea Store? Two “Elites” are Involved

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Nowadays robotic cooks do not only appear in science fictions but are becoming more available in our daily cooking applications. At the end of 2018, SoftBank invested 375 million US dollar to Zume, a pizza delivery company which features pizza productions with robots. At the same time, Haidilao hotpot spent 150 million RMB to build a smart hotpot restaurant where many robots are responsible for dish sorting, meal delivery, dish washing, and selecting hotpot soup. In March 2020, Happy Lemon established their first smart beverage store with beverages made with robotic arms.

01Background

Letting robots be part of kitchen thereby automating meal production is a clear trend. Our customer Bubble Guai started their plans to build autonomous bubble tea retail stations in 2019, hoping to demonstrate fully autonomous bubble tea production procedures, which involve ordering, tea preparing, taking order, in a sealed glass working station where a robot can support 18 SKUs (stock keeping unit). Customers can directly view the bubble tea production process through the glass.
Our customer anticipates to accomplish upgrading for traditional bubble tea retail stations. The concept of “new beverage” is independently attracting more and more investments during the last few years. The market for these freshly prepared beverages is large and continues to grow rapidly. However, the low threshold to enter the market introduces a variety of problems such as product homogenization, intensive competitions, plagiarism disputes (even for top brands), and large labor costs. The beverage preparing procedure, which requires many steps such as brewing tea, preparing milk cover, and adding ice, leads to difficulties of standardization. Sample retention and matching and production with assembly lines are the key factors to keep consistent taste and quality of the beverages, meaning that, to achieve these goals, companies have to invest and focus a lot on aspects such as employee training and quality assurance.

02Major Difficulties

The premise of replacing labors with robots is consistent quality of beverages. For owners of the beverage stations, the motivation that drives them to replace human employees with robots is the consistent quality and efficiency, whole-day working shift, stable employment, and easier management of beverage production. However, for robots to be truly accepted for such applications, it depends on whether the extra profit they bring can pay off the deployment and operation cost.
According to third party surveys, the subsequent operation cost for a new beverage station consists around 50% renting fees for the station and 30% labor cost (depending on different store types). Therefore, an increase in profit mainly comes from decreasing size of the station and lowering labor cost.

03Ideal Store Types

Based on the forementioned factors, the ideal store should be around 6 square metre (for a smaller working space for equipment and robots) where robots will replace human employees. That will lead to significant cost advantages, with reduced cost for both renting and labor, as operation period becomes longer and longer, if the operation cost is at a relatively low level.
With this solution in mind, our customer turned attention to collaborative robots which are structurally compact, flexible for deployment, and easily programmed.

The demonstrative store of Bubble Guai in Shanghai still occupies a relatively large space with two ELITE EC66 (6kg load) collaborative robots installed.

The two robots work together at two sides where one robot on the left side is responsible for loading and unloading tea containers, extraction of tea with negative pressure, brewing tea, opening milk box with ultrasound knife, pouring milk into storage bottle, and the other one on the right side is responsible for preparing for the different ingredients of the 18 different flavors which are selected by customers when they order. After the entire beverage preparing procedures, the robot places beverage on a transport line which delivers the beverage to customers.

A cup of bubble tea can be produced every 60 seconds, and the whole process of ordering, preparing and taking the order can be accomplished.
In addition to the advantages of compact structure and small space occupancy, every single joint of ELITE collaborative robot supports ±360° rotation, and the robot basically has no unreachable angle within the spherical working range, so it can easily reach all points. Interactive programming of teach pendant makes the debugging of robot easier, especially suitable for the complicated projects such as preparing bubble tea. Engineers can precisely plan the path of robot by drag-and-record instructions, so as to ensure the finishing time of the project is greatly shortened.
With the launch of more demonstrative stores and mini robot bubble tea shops in the future, it is believed that collaborative robots will bring a new appearance to the business of “freshly produced beverages”.

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