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 Yesterday’s science fiction is becoming far closer to reality as industries along the supply chain are dramatically increasing their use of robots to perform a wide range of jobs.

Will Robotics Improve Efficiency? The Data Says “Yes” As Industries Plan Using Far More Robots In Supply Chain

A fascinating Bloomberg.com article subtitled “It’s 2036. We’ve automated ourselves out of shopping and shipping. Here’s how it happened.” paints a future where “humans have been entirely removed from the logistics business, which is now coordinated by machines and software.” Among other things, the article reports that remotely-operated vessels will be common by 2030, semi-autonomous trucks will probably be common on American roads in five to 10 years, and the number of commercial drones will be 10 times higher in 2021 than 2017.

Futurists have made these kinds of projections before, but this time there’s a more tangible reason why the use of automation and robotics is increasing -- the data shows it works. Supply Chain Management Review magazine reports that companies have tens of thousands of robots in dozens of distribution centers. These robots have been able to accelerate delivery times and reduce fulfillment related costs,” reports the article NextGen Supply Chain: The Robots are Here.”

"According to a note published by Deutsche Bank, the deployment of the robots equates to a roughly $22 million per year savings in facilities where they are in use, or an estimated 20 percent reduction to operating costs," the article says.

The article notes that robots have been on factory floors for years, but says that in recent years robots have become far more flexible, intelligent, and mobile. They are also more capable of working with people and working in industries that were resistant to automation in the past. In short, robots are now more apt to improve the logistical efficiency of a company’s supply chain.

There is amazing variety in the new kinds of technologically-advanced robots, or autonomous mobile robotics (AMRs), that are used today. The new systems include the Fetch Robotics Freight, GreyOrange Butler, Hitachi Racrew, the Knapp Open Shuttle, the Locus Robotics System, the Scallog System, and Swisslog CarryPick.

“Autonomous robots are expected to see strong growth over the next five years, particularly within supply chain operations that include lower-value, potentially dangerous or high-risk tasks,” reports the Deloitte article “Using autonomous robots to drive supply chain innovation.” Autonomous robots have a strong presence already in manufacturing, final assembly, and warehousing, for example.”

Drones Are Efficient

There have been crucial developments in robotics in the past few years in five areas -- artificial intelligence, cost reductions, navigation, regulatory reform and public policy, and sensors and response capabilities -- according to the Deloitte article. Because of all these improvements, supply chain consulting firms have become more valuable to companies that want to improve their logistical efficiency.

The article also lists numerous advantages of robotics, including:

  • Improving a company’s productivity.
  • Reducing errors.
  • Improving safety for employees.
  • Improving picking, sorting, and storing times.
  • Freeing employees to focus more on valuable jobs that can’t be automated.

The article “5 Ways Robots Perform Mundane Tasks Better (With Examples)” details the advantages of robotics. It points out that robots are more precise than people, they are better suited to doing repetitive tasks that bore people, and they’re not susceptible to other problems people have such as sickness and not wanting to perform certain jobs.

One of the more interesting developments in robotics has been the increasing use of drones -- automated aircraft that can, among other things, deliver products via the air. This article details how companies are successfully using drones in their supply chain. According to this Forbes article, there are companies that want to use drones to deliver packages directly from warehouses to people’s homes.

The Bloomberg.com article reports that Google and UPS are also considering using drones, but the commercial drone industry could be negatively impacted by customers who are concerned about snooping. In fact, many municipalities are considering laws that will limit the capabilities of drones, the article reports.

Many people are concerned that robots could replace people in the workplace rather than help them. This Inc. magazine article reports that 38 percent of the jobs in the U.S. could be performed by robots by 2030, but the Deloitte article reports that robots will allow people to “shift to more strategic, less dangerous, and higher value work.”

This 14-page report by the International Federation of Robotics has more information on the robotics’ effect on jobs. It is entitled “The Impact of Robots on Productivity, Employment and Jobs.”

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About Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson is AFFLINK'S Vice President of Marketing and Communications. He has been with the organization since 2005 and provides strategic leadership for the entire supply chain team. In his free time, Michael enjoys working with the Wounded Warrior Project, fishing, and improving his cooking skills.

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