Agile workflows: a viable solution to the “Amazon Effect”

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Often called the “Amazon Effect,” today’s customers want what they want right when they want it. This can be solved by agile workflows.

A report by Drop-Off (a last-mile delivery service solution) found that 43 percent of consumers expect “much faster” delivery, 31 percent expect same-day delivery, and 65 percent will switch to companies that match Amazon’s delivery options. These customers also expect quality products as 79 percent said they will not make a repeat purchase if the first experience involves a damaged product.

Customer’s need for variety trumps cost of “slow movers”

History shows customers value product variety. When Walmart tried to cut a mere 15 percent of their “slow movers” (infrequently ordered items), consumers publicly voiced their outrage. This led to a decrease in customer satisfaction and a substantial decline in sales, forcing Walmart to restock the retired units.

This proves customers value quality, variety, and expedited delivery, and forces logistics entities to adopt a continuous fulfillment schedule and keep larger inventories to address consumer demand.

The only way to meet these expectations is for manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and logistics partners to create flexible and agile workflows.

Investing in robotics

A mixed fleet of intelligent self-driving vehicles is one way to increase dexterity and elasticity. They can complete physically demanding jobs, and work uninterrupted for multiple shifts. Smarter robots have the freedom to adapt to changes without human assistance. However, they are only one part of the solution.

Ultimate flexibility and agility come from the ability to change the operational process based on current circumstances, without increasing costs or sacrificing quality, safety, or rate of delivery. This can be achieved by avoiding rigid methods, delivery routes, resources (robot, human, legacy operation), or allocation of resources for warehouse activities. Operations managers should look at all available resources, routes, and methods and pick the most efficient combination to optimally perform a given task.

This allows operations to seamlessly adapt to surges in demand, unexpected changes, rapid delivery requirements, and the vast stock keeping unit (SKU) proliferation brought on by the rising consumer expectations.

Overtime is not the answer

In the past, material handling operations increased labor to handle SKU surplus and faster delivery. However, this is no longer a viable option for three main reasons:

  1. There are not enough workers available. The material handling industry is facing the largest labor shortage in its history, struggling to fill 183,000 new roles a year.
  2. It is not financially sustainable. Material handling wages have doubled in the past five years. This, paired with incremental hiring, training, turnover, and benefit costs make it impossible for organizations to remain competitive utilizing only human labor.
  3. It is not safe. Humans should not be placed in the physically and mentally taxing working conditions these roles demand.

Because of this labor crisis, autonomous vehicles are a cost-efficient method to meet customer expectations without sacrificing service/product quality or employees’ well-being. Mechanized helpers automate the mundane, repetitive, and often dangerous tasks non-stop without getting tired or slowing down.

The value of change

To be valuable investments, self-driving vehicles need to do more than drive, lift, pull, load, or pick. As Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

The Vecna Robotics’ fleet

Thus, intelligent self-driving vehicles must come with a level of autonomy that allows them to adapt to changes in demand, avoid obstacles, and work carefully with and around people and other automation systems. A Vecna Robotics’ customer reported their autonomous vehicles to encounter unplanned obstacles up to 90 percent of the time.

If they required human assistance every time, it would negatively affect production and increase non-value-added travel. Vecna Robotics’ systems overcome this using the unique Vecna Autonomy Stack with several key features:

  • Multi-modal sensors that fuse together for high confidence navigation
  • Dynamic obstacle avoidance technology that allows robots to make the safest choices while working alongside people
  • Topological reasoning to find the best way to complete each mission
  • Local decision-making to establish true autonomy and ensure work gets done even when the unexpected occurs

The best autonomous solution for the increase in demand is not simply a self-driving vehicle, but a self-driving vehicle paired with the best autonomy to adapt to change as it occurs.

Learn more

Learn about Vecna Robotics’ entire fleet of self-driving vehicles at ProMat 2019. Vecna will be displaying a wide range of vehicles, including its 5th generation Pallet Jack at booth #S5483. We’ll be showcasing our Automated Material Handling, Hybrid Fulfillment, and Workflow Optimization solutions, along with the self-driving vehicles and technology that fuels them.