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The Rise of Robotics in Logistics

Apr 17, 2019, 8:00:00 AM

With a record-low unemployment rate of 3.8% and e-commerce sales expected to top $4 trillion by 2021 brands and 3PLs (third-party logistics providers) are “flanked on both sides”. More consumers are purchasing products with fewer workers to fulfill those orders.

The need for warehouse jobs continues to grow. A Wall Street Journal article estimates that the logistics industry will need to add 25,000 jobs this year, giving warehouse job seekers the upper hand when it comes to selecting an employer. This labor shortage has forced brands to start providing a unique and more engaging work environment to attract and retain quality employees.

This labor shortage coupled with the e-commerce boom has led to the rise of robotics in logistics. Robotics spending is set to top $115 billion in 2019 - a 17.8% increase over 2018 spending. As more and more brands and logistics providers embrace advanced technologies, robotics seems to be leading the pack.

What are the benefits of using robotics?

There are a lot of advanced technologies to explore such as automated conveyance, artificial intelligence, drones, and Google Glass. So why are so many people (including 3PLs) landing on robotics as their solutions of choice?

1. Flexible option for brands

Robots are small, mobile, and easy to expand into multiple operations. Building infrastructure that is bolted to the ground is a permanent (and expensive) investment. Robotics give brands that flexibility to utilize the technology during busy seasons such as startup and peak but not necessarily all year long.

2. Increased productivity

One of the main benefits of robotics is increased productivity. Operations are able to double their pick rate and reduce training time - lowering brands cost per unit while fulfilling twice as many orders. Collaborative robots work with the teammates on the floor to help the operation run as efficiently as possible.

3. More engaging work environment

Using robotics in the warehouse enhances (not replaces) the workforce. Working with robotics can make employees more efficient. Robots replace the need to push heavy carts, have an intuitive user interface which is easy to use, and can “speak” multiple languages. These robots can reduce training times up to 50% and when many operations offer a “pay for performance” incentive, any saved training time can help both the brand and the employee.

How do brands navigate all the options for robotics providers?

With so many brands and types of robotics in the marketplace, how can you tell which is the right option for your brand? Robotics are not a one-size fits all situation and you need to make sure you are utilizing the right type of technology that optimizes your business. Does it make sense for your operation to use collaborative robots or goods-to-man? Here’s a short breakdown of the two most popular robotics options.

  Goods-to-Man Robots (AMR)

Collaborative Robots (PA-AMR)

AutoStore (ASRS)

Robotic Arms

How they work

Robotic base, Move pods (shelves) to a pick and pack station

Pick assistant with AMR base Automated Storage and Retrieval System Automated Pick and Put/Sort
Best use cases Deployed in new warehouse infrastructure, flexible and fast-changing warehouse/sorting space Deployed in existing warehouse infrastructure for augmented picking Deployed in new warehouses, high-speed shuttle systems

Deployed in new or existing warehouses, slow to medium speed

Providers Grey-Orange, Grenzebach, Swisslog Locus Robotics, 6 River Systems, Otto, Fetch Honeywell, Opex, Dematic, Exotec Solutions Fanuc, Kuka, Universal Robots, Yaskawa

 

When looking for a robotics provider, you need to do your research. Partnering with a 3PL can help streamline this process. Work with a partner who understands your problems and how to use robotics to help solve them. Make sure they have an established relationship with robotics vendors. Ask for references, find case studies in an application that look like yours, and go see the robots in action in a warehouse.

How soon could brands expect a return on investment?

The number one question executives ask when it comes to robotics is “how soon will I see a return on investment?”. It’s a fair question as many companies are risk-averse to investing in new technology without knowing what a tangible return on investment could be.

There are many factors that are at play when determining ROI - size of operation, number of robots, types of products etc. While it does depends on the operation, there are some common denominators to seeing a return on investment.

  • Robotics vendors continually improve both their technology and their cost models to make them more affordable for brands.
  • Look for a partner who can ensure you get a return on investment. Ask for references, case studies, etc. The best way to ensure an ROI is to work with a partner who has valid proof sources. With the right logistics partner, brands can see returns on their investment in under 2 years - some in less than a year.

More brands are starting to embrace technology in order to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Using robotics in your supply chain can be a strategic advantage. A strategic logistics partner can help you select the right robotics vendor to ensure your business stays ahead of the competition.

GEODIS

Written by GEODIS