Managing warehouse operations can be challenging and exhaustive. So, companies gladly implement smart technologies, mainly robotics and artificial learning (AI), to optimize warehousing and logistics activities. Logistics robots are proving to be particularly beneficial for many logistics and e-commerce companies, which use warehousing services extensively.
At present, the trend of equipping warehouses with autonomous solutions is increasing. It is boosting the significance of timely deliveries across logistical facilities. In addition, the escalating demand for complicated supply chain operations and e-commerce order fulfillment services is a significant factor responsible for the appearance of robotics for logistics solutions.
Labor-intensive operations across warehouses are pushing facility owners and retailers to integrate logistics robots, which is further propelling their market growth. In this guide, we look at the top logistics robots that can take your business to a new level and explore their various uses and applications and the numerous benefits they offer to the logistics industry.
The Current State of Employment and Logistics
The deadly coronavirus pandemic has had a significantly profound and permanent impact on retailers, manufacturers, and global supply chains.
According to a June 2021 Institute for Supply Management survey, even though manufacturing output is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels, most companies and their respective suppliers are still struggling to meet increasing levels of demand.
The Institute for Supply Management found that wide-scale shortages of fundamental materials, record-long lead times, escalating commodities prices, and challenges in transporting products continue to have an impact on all manufacturing segments.
These factors pose many significant challenges for retailers who experienced increases in their e-commerce sales volumes in 2020 and anticipated that demand will rise in 2021 and beyond.
Taking care of the ever-increasing shipment volumes is just one of those challenges for retail logistics experts. E-commerce operations usually call for workers to carry out tasks such as individual picking, shipping, and packing per item more often than what bulk transportation of brick and mortar retail stores needs.
- In 2020, FedEx, DHL, and UPS hired over 200,000 new employers than in North America.
- Despite the hiring sprees, many logistics companies continue to experience labor shortages.
- Amazon added almost 427,300 workers in 10 months.
Even when these companies continue hiring extra employees, they heavily invest in automation and robotics technologies. Robotics applies to a vast range of areas within a logistics operation.
These include robotic item picking, goods-to-robot picking, goods-to-operation picking, transportation of goods, non-conveyable transportation, robotic sorting, and robotic put walls.
For instance, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) leverage groundbreaking technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial learning (AI), and computer vision for navigation without calling for additional human operators or infrastructure.
They gather and analyze thousands and millions of data points in real-time to comprehend how to carry out specific tasks more efficiently. Not only do these robots match the jobs human workers perform, but they also greatly minimize the risks of injury.
Many tasks in logistics applications are dirty, dull, and unsafe. They’re physically demanding jobs off of people that require continuous repetitive motion, along with potentially lifting heavy-weight machines.
Unlike humans, robots will not get hurt or tired while carrying out these tasks hour after hour, day after day. They free their human equivalents to focus on other tasks requiring more critical problem-solving and thinking skills.
What are Logistics Robots?
Logistics robots computerize the process of storing and moving products as they are carried through the supply chain. They are primarily used in storage and warehouse facilities to organize and carry products. Still, they can also be used in other settings. Logistics robots offer companies far more significant levels of uptime than manual labor.
As a result, this leads to substantial profitability and productivity gains by deploying logistics robots. The main application of logistics robots is the use of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in storage and warehouse facilities for the transportation of goods.
These robots work in preset pathways, maneuvering products for storage day and night. AGVs play a significant role in streamlining the supply chain and minimizing the cost of logistics. Other logistics examples include:
- Robotic arms that help sort items from containers, bins, or production lines.
- AGVs for transporting products in the open, such as in agriculture.
- Mobile robots in retail that treat stores like mini-warehoused and count the shelf inventory in real-time.
A few logistics robots are used to deliver lab specimens and medicines in laboratories and hospitals. While logistics robots may differ in how they’re deployed, they are usually mobile robots intended to computerize the transportation of goods.
Their most significant source of profitability is high levels of uptime, regardless of applications. Companies now understand the value of logistics robots, which is ultimately positioning the marker for swift growth.
The Promising Rise of Robot Startups in the Logistics Industry to Fuel the Market
The worldwide logistics robots market is expected to reach $17.82 billion by 2028, demonstrating a CAGR of 16.4% during the period of forecast. As per a report by Fortune Business Insights that was titled “Logistics Robots Market for the period 2021-2028,” the market value was estimated to be $5.38 billion in 2020 and was expected to reach $6.17 billion in 2021.
As robots continue to enter the logistics industry, many startup companies have sprung up to provide inventive and high-tech robotic solutions for warehouse management and manufacturing operations.
For instance, Copal, a Netherlands-based startup, offers robots that can be encoded to move substantial loads, deliver them right away to storage, or palletize it, thus boosting the efficiency and productivity of the manufacturing process.
Conversely, Sawyer, a Germany-based startup, has created cobots (collaborative robots) that stand with the human employees in the production line and carry out entirely automated, repetitive tasks.
Meanwhile, Smart Robotics, headquartered in the Netherlands, has engineered top-grade logistics robots designed to execute accurate placing and picking movements. The production of such specialized entities in industrial automation and robotics is cultivating the sustained growth of this impressive logistics robots market.
Top Logistics Robots
The logistics industry includes a significant amount of processes and is primarily what holds the modern world together. Ordering, picking, warehousing, packing, transportation, inventory, delivery, and routing are just some of the processes the logistics industry entails.
Robotic logistics refers to the application of robotics in either of these processes. Some of the most prevalent robotic applications include robotic packaging, robotic palletizing, and robotic picking typically used in warehousing or any other logistics software solutions.
Now comes the main question, “ What kind of robots could be useful for warehouses? ” Here are popular examples of logistics robots:
Aerial drones help optimize various warehouse inventory processes. They can scan locations quickly for automated inventories and much faster than human workers, sending an accurate count in the snap of a finger to your warehouse inventory management software.
These aerial drones don’t require lasers or markers to guide them, nor do they take up the valuable space in warehouses. They can travel swiftly and help in hard-to-reach spots.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)
Autonomous mobile robots use sophisticated sensor technology to deliver inventory across the warehouse. They don’t need a set track between locations. Moreover, AMRs can comprehend and interpret their surroundings via computers, maps, and onboard sensors.
These small and handy warehouse robots can identify the information on each package and conveniently sort it with flawless accuracy. They reign down on the redundant manual work process, which is susceptible to human errors.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
Automated guided carts and vehicles transport inventory around the warehouse while following a track laid in the warehouse. They are ideal for more giant warehouses as they help minimize the time spent by the workforce just moving from one area to another.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS)
ASRS is a robot-aided system that can store and/or retrieve goods from pre-determined storage locations. They can be encoded to work as a craft that moves and operates on a distinct path or a crane that retrieves products between sales. ASRS differ in terms of the type of task, the system needed, or the goods they’ll work with.
There are aisle-climbing robots too that can retrieve the orders of customers. These significantly free up the time of employees who can focus more on other complex processes like packing and posting the items.
What Drives The Need For Cobots In Logistics?
Even though there’s been a significant boom in logistics robots, there are two primary factors that are driving the increasing need for cobots in logistics:
- Shortage of available workforce: The lack of proficient workers can significantly affect logistics.
- The growth of e-commerce: When products are shipped directly to customers, there’s a significant variety of different packing requirements.
Thanks to the significant advancements in vision and sensor technology, cobots can now successfully operate alongside humans without physical barriers.
Uses and Applications of Robotics in Logistics
Distribution networks across the complete international supply chain call for a high volume of diverse and complicated tasks. This paves the way for challenges for automation, which is the cheapest and easiest technology to implement where there are simple and repetitive tasks.
However, new technology is fast overcoming these hurdles in logistics in a few unique ways. There are multiple uses and applications of robotics in logistics.
Stationary Piece Picking
Items are constantly being sorted in the warehouse. Usually, it is simply a matter of moving a product from one container to another. Historically, the task of piece picking has been challenging, as robots were not sure of which items they were picking.
Industrial robot arms led by vision systems that can identify which products is which can effectively handle this process in a stationary work-cell. These robots enhance accuracy and efficiency in the warehouse.
Whether it is a bulk discount or a massive sale, many items require customized packaging before they make their way to the retailers’ shelves. This can be challenging for a robot since it signifies working with different product shapes and sizes. It also calls for work to be finished around humans, unlike inside a work cell. This is where cobots (collaborative robots) step in.
Cobots are designed to work around humans safely and have played a significant role in logistics. They have no sharp edges and power off when they accidentally bump across something.
Some cobots can be trained to perform tasks in logistics applications by allowing humans to guide their arms once to learn the movement. This lessens inefficient programming time and speeds the custom packaging process.
Robots are swiftly making their way in the logistics sector and are providing efficiency, accuracy, and safety in a vast array of applications, mainly that entail work in the distribution center. There are several exciting robotic technologies in logistics, including robots, but cobots have been incredibly effective.
Management of Warehouses and Inventory
Automated robots with AI serve as excellent allies in managing the warehouse with better control and added safety. Poor inventory management is probably the biggest distribution nightmares as it has an adverse impact and indicates vast losses for the company due to shipping errors and wrong stock figures.
Arches and drones let logistic teams have more up-to-date and accurate inventory details in real-time, which minimizes the amount of time utilized in conducting monotonous review tasks, along with costs and errors. They even help organize the warehouse, detect empty areas, and optimize space.
These systems are essential for companies with complex warehouses with very high or deep shelves or catalogs with several product variants that increase workers' likelihood of making mistakes.
When goods are unloaded, moved, or chosen for shipping traditionally, the tasks of mobilization and picking in logistics took a significant amount of time and also involved several safety risks for workers.
The integration of robotics and use of robots adds more speed and safety when unloading, storing, lifting, and packing pallets, even though not all robots and drones can handle the distinctive sizes, shapes, and weights.
This option is incredibly useful in e-commerce as it permits the exact products of each order to be located in the warehouse. This streamlines the process of packing and shipping and reorganizing shelves continuously.
There are numerous applications for robots outside the storage facilities. Drones and autonomous vehicles will be more effective for shipping small orders or large goods for private customers, as in e-commerce. A controller can review signals sent by the autonomous vehicle from a distance, follow them in real-time, and confirm customer satisfaction.
At present, these robots work in the air or on land, and they typically bring about several headlines about their efficiency and safety. Most companies that have included them as part of their logistics systems only use them inside the warehouse. Many tests have been undertaken outside the warehouse, too, with small delivery robots by UPS, Amazon, and Domino’s Pizza.
These robots equipped with AI can compute the best routes and significantly minimize costs as they work without a drier and fuel, identify obstacles, and adapt to varying meteorological conditions such as snow or rain. Still, we need to solve the concern of their security when robots are faced with outside attacks and that of cost optimization as the system is currently too costly.
Benefits of Adopting Logistic Robots
Robotic systems in the logistics industry significantly help distribution facilities enhance accuracy, gain speed, cut costs, and take care of all the grunt work so the human workers can fully concentrate on other productive tasks.
Moreover, robots do not need any job interviews or resumes to work, as they can simply be programmed to do the tasks you want. The logistics industry can observe several clear and tangible benefits of adopting the robotics technology in the logistics industry and incorporating logistics robots. They are:
- Logistics robots enhance safety for workers by taking over all the complex and unsafe jobs, like getting items from hard-to-reach storage spaces and high racks.
- Logistics robots can significantly add to company profits and cut down on warehouse costs by minimizing human errors.
- Increased delivery speed and lesser human error brought about by robotic automation will boost customer satisfaction.
- Logistics robots can allow for labor force adaptability.
- Fast, automatic identification of any pallet or item in a warehouse.
- A study by Roland Berger analyzes the impact of logistics until 2025. It anticipates a reduction in the cost of logistics between 20-40% and a significant increase in productivity between 25-70%.
- Personalization of each robot’s configuration for varying tasks and complexity levels.
- Better precision in deliveries and more agile preparations for shipping.
- Remote connections with several devices from which you can observe the monitor the work of the robots.
Indeed, logistics robots are no longer a part of a science fiction novel anymore. They’re the here and now, which is starting to materialize.
When companies encounter the many technological changes that are just around the corner, the logistics industry must get the knowledge, financial aid, and support needed to adapt to the future, which is slowly and gradually becoming more common.
Preparation and training now will be the ultimate key to persist in the coming future without depending on inexpensive Asian technology and without observing an adverse impact on domestic jobs. Investing in high-tech logistics robots and implementing robotics technology is a significant step.
Nevertheless, it ultimately results in fast, cost-effective, and error-free operations. Hence, it is time to integrate logistics robots for the dirty, mundane, and unsafe tasks, free your labor force for more difficult tasks, and unleash the many benefits of automation, which are already within reach of their company.