ROBOTICS & AUTOMATION
The first wave of automation using intelligent robotics has arrived in the logistics industry. Driven by rapid technological advancements and greater affordability, robotics solutions are entering the logistics workforce, supporting zero-defect processes and boosting productivity. Mobile or stationary, robots will adopt more roles in the supply chain, assisting workers with warehousing, transportation, and even last-mile delivery activities.
Key Developments & Implications
Logistics industry players from traditional warehousing to new e-commerce startups are moving towards automated processes to boost throughput, cut costs, and meet growing customer demand. As more processes along the supply chain are matched with robotics solutions, the robotics industry is only expected to grow.
Logistics robots are diversifying and achieving proficiency that matches and exceeds human capabilities. Upgraded with enhanced hardware and developments in AI, new devices have human-like dexterity, improved vision, and quick, agile movement. With better robots and more use cases, partnerships are being forged throughout the logistics industry – pairing traditional automation providers with a new wave of startups – to achieve next-level value with intelligent automation.
Logistics providers, retailers, and manufacturers are following suit, co-innovating products and services for efficiency gains in supply chain operations. The time for logistics professionals to seriously consider robotic opportunities and solutions is now.
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are being adopted on a massive scale by supply chain players. Operating safely alongside human workers in mixed environments, AMRs can substantially improve productivity – up to 50% with point-to-point (P2P) transport with, say, bins or pallets, and up to 150% with assisted order picking, for example with e-commerce orders.
AMRs are also widely deployed to clean facility floors or even perform functions like property mapping and surveilling. Whether AMRs are simply driverless versions of familiar vehicles like forklifts and yard trucks (see Self-Driving Vehicles) or completely new types of machinery, they have inherent built-in safety precautions and operation functions to support the reduction of hazards in facilities.
Stationary robots, also commonly known as articulated robotic arms, are approaching human-like performance and throughput; some have even exceeded this. As performance has improved over the past few years, a wider array of logistics applications has opened up to stationary robots beyond simply palletizing heavier goods and other less complex operations.
Random bin picking, co-packaging, sorting orders into put walls, inducting objects onto conveyor belts – all are now supply chain tasks that are within the realm of intelligent and fast articulated robotic arms, sometimes surpassing human counterparts. As stationary robots proliferate, their costs are lowering and return on investment can now take less than 4 years.
Micro-fulfillment is a focus topic for novel automation and robotics technologies, encapsulating the concept of small-scale warehouse facilities in urban locations, close to the consumer. These new mini inventory and distribution hubs provide valuable opportunities for instant and short-time delivery to a large number of customers.
With land more expensive in cities than in rural areas, and with shorter delivery times mandating 24/7 availability and uptime, denser facility design and around-the-clock operations are achieved with fully automated systems and integrated robotics technologies.
Questions answered in this report:
- Understanding robotics in logistics – why is the time right to start investigating?
- Which leading technology trends are enabling robotics solutions in logistics?
- What are some of the potential use cases in the near future?
- How could robots change the world of logistics in the far future?
Talk to an Expert
Innovation Project Manager
Americas Innovation Center
Benjamin Perlson is an Innovation Project Manager, and his area of focus is on robotics and automation initiatives. Ben works to connect with startups and established vendors to help bridge gaps between technology groups and logistics professionals. A large part of his time is also spent working with our customers to understand their challenges and bring forward solutions to optimize their operations.
DHL Asia Pacific Innovation Center
YingChuan Huang (Chuan) is responsible for driving DHL’s innovation agenda in the Asia Pacific region as the Trend Research Lead. Chuan has had over 7 years of experience in engineering, consulting and logistics, equipping him to effectively champion operational excellence initiatives through digital transformation, leveraging technologies such as Robotics, Computer Visioning and IoT.