Robotics has long been a key component of the shipping industry, as robots can efficiently and cheaply perform simple, repetitive tasks that factor importantly into logistics. In recent years, however, robotics has begun to fill a more advanced role in the supply chain. Learn how robotics has taken on a more prominent position and discover how this technology is poised to make a major impact on shipping logistics in the near future.
Robots Enable Skilled Humans in Warehouse Settings
Around the globe, shipping companies have begun to integrate robot workers with human workers in warehouse settings. There, human employees train and program their robot counterparts to master tasks like locating, picking, and scanning goods as well as putting them back in place. While many human employees work quickly, robots can make the picking process much faster and more accurate, making warehouses much more efficient.
While the rate of robot adoption in warehouses is still relatively low, most companies who find the most value in robotics use methods that require humans and robots to work side by side. Many have graduated from a process that requires robots to locate an item, deliver the tote or pallet to their human counterparts, and then return the shelf to its place. Now, more advanced processes enable robots to work more autonomously, quickly locating items for their human counterparts, who then manually perform the pick.
Robots May Soon Work Independently
Manufacturers like Locus Robots typically encourage shipping companies to incorporate robots gradually, which reduces workflow disruption and enables their human counterparts to maximize their value. As founder Bruce Welty explains, this method of integration has the potential to drive further innovation, as workers seek out ways for robots to improve both workflow and overall performance. Global shipping companies like DHL are currently experimenting with this type of integration.
As robots take on more prominent roles in the shipping industry, some companies are devising warehouse environments that allow robots to work independently. Amazon has made numerous headlines for developing warehouses that rely almost solely on robots, with minimal need for human input. After calculating the sizeable benefit the company could achieve from incorporating robots at such an increased rate, Amazon purchased robot manufacturer Kiva to further integrate robotics into its supply chain. Other logistics giants haven’t yet followed suit, but they may do so in the future.
Many Shipping Companies Realize Increased Value From Robots
While not all shipping companies will benefit equally from investing in robotics, many industries are uniquely poised to realize substantial value. Companies that tend to move high-value products slowly and manufacturers of large, unwieldy items that robots cannot move safely may not receive a worthwhile return on investment (ROI) from adding robots to the shipping process. However, companies with hundreds of products or thousands of SKUs are much more likely to receive a substantial return after incorporating robotics.
Whether independent robot workforces or collaborative environments with blended workforces become the norm, one thing is certain. Shipping companies will need to pay close attention to the value and potential of robotics to ensure optimal efficiency and automation.