Very few industries illustrate the evolving relationship between “man and machine” as well as logistics. The industry is being buffeted by several major trends that are bringing robotics and associates closer together. Low unemployment is creating intense competition for warehouse workers at a time when demand for labor is increasing significantly. Manual processes are still the norm in many areas of the supply chain, and there are perceived inefficiencies in segments such as last-mile delivery or utilization of transport capacity. E-commerce is introducing profound changes – from smaller batch sizes across a much broader range of SKUs to the need to reengineer fulfillment networks to position inventory closer to the end customer and pick it faster to meet the one-day shipping promise. All of these trends, combined with the ongoing competitive pressure to reduce costs and increase productivity, create a compelling business case for increased automation and deployment of robotics.
At the same time, in 2020, we will not see a mass transition to fully automated warehouses. That’s an important point to highlight because there are many misconceptions when it comes to the short-term potential of robotics in our industry. Logistics operations are incredibly complex, and even the most advanced robotic solutions on the market are still not fully capable of sorting through scattered items of varying weight, size, and orientation in most companies’ warehouses at a sufficient rate of accuracy and reliability.