Logistics Management, Roberto Michel – July 2020 – Extraordinary times—and a need for proven measures—may be what propels robotics to the next level in warehouse and distribution center (DC) operations.
Not that robotics has been slow to catch on in warehousing. According to analyst firm ABI Research, the global mobile robotics market will reach $23 billion this year. In a 2020 survey by Peerless Research as part of our annual “Industry Outlook” study, 9% surveyed told us they were already using robotics, and 19% were considering them.
But can robotics for intralogistics keep growing quickly, given the disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic? Unemployment has skyrocketed. Some manufacturers temporarily had to shut down sites, and many companies have tightened their budgets, at least in the short term.
“From what we’re seeing, there has been a huge increase in demand for e-commerce during the pandemic,” says Rian Whitton, a senior analyst at ABI. “And the greater the percentage of retail that shifts to online, the more heavily automated these warehouses and other facilities involved with fulfillment will need to become, which should accelerate the market for mobile robotics.”
Robots Plus People
While robots do reduce the labor requirement versus more manual methods of processing orders, vendors say people typically are part of the equation. Using the bots for materials movements frees up warehouse associates to do things like kitting, exception handling, packing quality checks, or simply spending more time on actual picking.
There also are larger AMRs that can be configured to bring pallets and larger loads from receiving to a bulk storage area, which eliminates time spent by skilled lift truck operators transporting pallets across a DC, with empty trips back to pick up more pallets.
“Robotics frees up people to do the more nuanced, less repeatable tasks that makes use of the ingenuity which people have, but robots do not,” says David Clear, Chief Revenue Officer of AMR provider Vecna Robotics.
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