The Robots Are Coming ... To Your Warehouse

At the end of last year, just 4,000 warehouses were equipped with commercial robots. However, that number is about to explode. According to our intelligent supply chain research, more than 4 million commercial robots will be installed across 50,000 warehouses by 2025 – a staggering increase that is set to transform the supply chain at large.

What’s Driving The Adoption Of Robots In Warehouses?

There are three main factors that driving this growing trend – flexibility, affordability, and speed

Flexibility: Whereas heavy, mechanized automation typically requires a substantial upfront investment and a rigid, physical infrastructure, robots, such as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) Goods-to-Person systems, allow for space to be optimized without the need for new and costly greenfield fulfillment centers.

Mobile robotic systems also offer major flexibility advantages. Robot vendors, such as Fetch, Geek+, and Invia, enable additional robots to be added to or removed from a fleet as operational demands require. They also allow easy and relatively rapid reconfiguration of entire workflows and operations if product lines or fundamental operational requirements change. This is a major advantage in the unpredictable and dynamic e-commerce market.

Affordability: The growing, global adoption of warehouse robotics will be spurred by the increasing affordability and Return on Investment (ROI) of a growing variety of infrastructure-light robots, making them more a attractive and versatile alternative to traditional fixed mechanical automation or manual operations.

Many robot technology vendors are providing additional value by offering flexible pricing options. Robotics-as-a-Service models mean that large CapEx costs can be replaced with more accessible OpEx costs that are directly proportional to the consumption of technologies or services, improving the affordability of robotics systems among the mid-market, further driving adoption.

By lowering the barriers to adoption for robots in the warehouse, vendors are disrupting the wider logistics value chain. If advanced automation becomes possible for mid-size e-retailers, they will be able to fight back against the dominant players and also bring fulfillment operations back in-house, disrupting the relationship between retailers and 3PLs.

Speed: It’s no secret that consumers and businesses alike expect to receive their goods as fast as possible. Eventually, same-day-delivery will become not only the preferred time frame, it will become the standard. As a result, supply chains will need to enable flexible, efficient, and automated e-commerce fulfillment – and robots can help make it happen by enabling warehouses to scale operations up or down as required while offering major efficiency gains and mitigating inherent challenges associated with labor and staffing.

Thanks to impressive innovation in Artificial Intelligence (AI), computer vision, deep learning, and robotic mechanics, robots are also becoming increasingly adept at performing traditionally harder-to-automate tasks. Economically viable mobile manipulation robots from the likes of RightHand Robotics and Kindred Systems are now enabling a wider variety of individual items to be automatically picked and placed within a fulfillment operation. By combining mobile robots, picking robots, and even autonomous forklifts, fulfillment centers can achieve greater levels of automation in an efficient and cost-effective way.

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The supply chain is in the midst of a radical transformation, driven not only by robots, but by blockchain, automation, augmented reality, IoT, wearable devices, and a whole host of other game-changing technologies. If you want to learn how to remain competitive in this new reality, you need to know how these technologies work. Our Intelligent Supply Chain service can provide you with the insight you need.