Did you know? E-commerce sales are set to skyrocket from $2.8 trillion in 2018 to $4.9 trillion in 2021 according to Statista. With warehouses already struggling with workforce shortage, companies are desperately looking for ways to keep up with or even capitalize on increasing consumer demand.
A solution to overcome this is investing in warehouse technology, particularly in robotics, to achieve an autonomous warehouse. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Robotics and Automation?
Robotics is a branch of engineering and science that deals with the design, construction, operation and use of robots that can be programmed to do certain tasks. These robots can then replace humans by performing repeatable tasks in a consistent manner and can also be used in hazardous environments in place of humans.
Automation, on the other hand, refers to sets of operations that can be performed with minimal or no human assistance. Investing in both technologies is your first step to achieving warehouse automation.
The Value of Robotics and Automation in the Warehouse
As anyone in the warehousing industry is aware, warehouses are filled with repeatable, process-oriented, and error-prone operations. Robotics and automation can take over the repetitious tasks (picking, receiving, put-away) from humans to achieve more consistent, accurate, and productive warehouse operations.
This improves employee engagement and retention rates by relieving employees from the dullest and most repetitive tasks. Instead, employees will tackle other roles such as customer service, maintenance, and operational analysis. This also results to a safer warehouse, as automation keeps humans away from the heavy equipment, machineries, and all types of hazardous working environments (e.g. extreme cold and heat). For more information about warehouse safety, read this article.
Robotics and Automation also allows the warehouse to have 24/7 operation, which is especially necessary in today’s age of rising e-commerce. Fully automated warehouses will require little to no human intervention, thus mitigating the industry’s workforce problems.
Fully Automated Warehouse
Realistically, today’s warehouses are implementing partial automation. A famous example is Amazon Kiva robots, which do goods-to-person picking. This eliminates the picker’s walking time to vastly improve the warehouse’s efficiency.
A newer implementation of automation is Ocado’s warehouse robots, which are able to fulfill 65,000 orders every week.
As technology progresses, robots will be able to take over more warehouse processes, which is a step closer to an “always-on” warehouse.
Considering the inefficiency of some employee-dependent processes, rising compensation rates, and safety risks, robotics and automation is becoming easier to justify as the technology becomes less costly.
Where is Robotics and Automation in Warehousing Now?
According to the MHI Annual Industry Report 2018, Robotics and Automation is currently one of the most widely adopted warehouse technologies. Thirty-four percent of the 1,100 respondents are already using it, demonstrating its worth to the industry.
S-Curve of Innovation
For the S-Curve, Robotics and Automation is on the steep slope of the Takeoff stage. Sixty-five percent of the respondents on the MHI report believe it can create disruption or provide competitive advantage. No doubt, the technology has demonstrated its ability to overcome significant obstacles.
Technology Adoption Life Cycle
Robotics and Automation is now being adopted by the Early Majority. It has crossed the chasm of death and has been adopted by 34% of the respondents. Thought leaders and big companies have adopted the technology, and the rest of the industry is following suit. It’s estimated that in one to two years, more than half of the industry will be using Robotics and Automation, with no signs of slowing in the trend.
For the Hype Cycle, we believe Robotics and Automation is on the Slope of Enlightenment. This may not be mentioned by Gartner, but it is essentially showing signs of being on this side of the curve. The industry understands the benefits of this technology, resulting in wider implementation in warehouses.
Robotics and Automation is very close to being standardized and is one of the front runners of the warehouse digitalization movement. With the current state of the market, adopting this technology now will bring you the most benefits and will help you stay ahead of the competition.
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