Dave Bowyer, pictured left, an automation systems consultant, with Steve Kennington, co-founder of Lumico Digital, with part of the company’s robotics retrieval system for newly manufactured stored hard drives ready to be shipped from South-East Asia.

A world-first robotics system which retrieves newly manufactured hard drives from storage stacks for automated shipment has been unveiled in southern England.

Lumico Digital, based at Fareham Innovation Centre – delivered the unique technology from scratch in just 11 months.

Nine 3.8m-high robots were being exported this month (October) to a production facility in South-East Asia, where the company’s install team will oversee integration with existing automation.

Co-founder Steve Kennington, who lives near Portsmouth, said: “It’s the only system of its kind in the world existing for this purpose.

“We had to get our skates on as we were only asked about this in November 2021, with the order contract given to us in March of this year.

“We’ve had the equivalent of up to five full-time people on the project since March, involved in hardware, software, electrical and build.”

A computer science graduate from the University of Portsmouth, Steve’s background is in automated hard drive testers – robots that move hard drives around in order to perform final tests before being cleared for end use.

He said: “The robotic process product we have created is a tester but without the tester capabilities – essentially it is a large storage system.

“The hard drives have already been tested in a production facility in South-East Asia and are ready to be shipped to computer manufacturers that make laptops and tablets, but that can only be done in cost-effective volumes of, say, 100,000.

“The hard drives will come along a conveyor belt to be stacked in storage until that batch is ready to be released – the factory then issues a ‘mass unload’ request and our tailored system pulls out the hard drives from a grid stack and ships them on their merry way.”

Lumico Digital develops smart internet-enabled devices and automated systems for a diverse range of industries, including manufacturing, wholesale, logistics, insurance, utilities, fintech and leisure, sport and social.

From the get-go on the latest project, the company partnered with Dave Bowyer, an automation systems consultant who lives near Chichester.

“It is Dave’s brainchild and we have been bringing it to life – it is very much a collaborative effort,” said Steve.

Dave added: “There are three key facets to the system – the mechanical solution, the physical control hardware to operate it and the control software which is the system’s ‘soul’ essentially, giving it its life. All three elements are of equal measure.”

With eight staff, Lumico Digital was co-founded six years ago by Steve, who lives near Portsmouth, and fellow director Stephen Briney, from near Southampton.

Steve said: “We joined Fareham Innovation Centre half a year after starting out, expanding into the workshop and one of the largest offices here, and we cannot praise the centre highly enough for its support of innovative businesses like ours. The workshop is now permanent home for our development systems.”

Fareham Innovation Centre’s Centre Director, Stephen Brownlie, said: “It is testament to the stature of Lumico Digital that one of the leading hard drive manufacturers in the world specifically requested that Steve and his team created this world-first application from the ground-up.

“To deliver a concept-to-install brief in 11 months, marrying design, hardware, software, engineering and assembly, is nothing short of extraordinary and gives an insight into the depth of innovation which takes place here at Fareham Innovation Centre.

“Steve at Lumico Digital described the product as ‘a big robot for storing things in a great big dark cupboard’, which is a memorable way of describing a complex application!

“What is not widely known either is that the vast majority of hard drives in the world, on their shipment journeys, have been processed through flow applications involving the industry expertise of Steve Kennington and Stephen Briney.”

According to the company, 240 million hard drives are produced annually across the globe – most permanent computer data in the cloud is stored on hard drives.

Fareham Innovation Centre has more than 50 companies on site, with 90% occupancy, and is operated by UKSPA member Oxford Innovation Space on behalf of Fareham Borough Council.