Logistics Robots are Not a Luxury. They are a Necessity.

Originally printed in the USA Today supplement, “A Mediaplanet Guide to the Innovations Advancing Retail Technology,” IAM Robotics founder, Tom Galluzzo, contributed to the conversation around growth of logistics robots.

Nothing is impacting the logistics industry as much as the growth of e-commerce. American consumers spend 40 billion hours shopping in stores— the equivalent of 20 million full time jobs. As more consumers shop online, that free labor needs to be replaced with automation. Robots can do your shopping for you.  

The pandemic highlighted the importance of stable supply chains, proving that automation is necessary for future success. With emerging automation opportunities, here are five trends to watch in the next five years. 

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

AMRs for order fulfillment will increase significantly, with the largest rise in their use for warehouse transportation solutions. Similarly, deployment of AMRs for sortation applications will also increase. AMRs provide fulfillment flexibility, and opportunities abound for more use cases.

Robots help the labor force, increase productivity, reduce errors, optimize picking and sorting, and reduce safety hazards. Business leaders are now realizing the power of human-robot collaboration. 

Better Data

Artificial intelligence (AI) will help warehouses analyze operations based on historical and real-time data. This information goes toward predictive analysis for inventory management, last-mile optimization, and reverse logistics. Keep your eye out for AI to create a competitive advantage for early adopters. 

Micro-Fulfillment Centers (MFCs)

Consumers want personalized experiences and affordable delivery. E-commerce spend grew to over $850 billion in 2020, up 44 percent, compared to 15 percent growth in 2019. Current facilities just cannot meet these expectations. MFCs focus on last-mile delivery by bringing products closer. They work best for retailers with small SKUs and high turnover during peak seasons. MFCs can satisfy consumer demands because they will have fast automation with robots. 

Supply Chain Workforce Shift

Customers want more product options, place smaller orders, and demand nearly-immediate delivery. Automation refocuses jobs on higher-value tasks, increasing productivity and worker satisfaction. 
Many jobs are created by automation, and up to 65 percent of current grade school students will work in jobs that do not exist yet. Remember that while autonomous robots will decrease manual labor, they will never replace workers. Actually, robotics will create 58 million net new jobs by 2022, which will require new skill sets. People know change is coming—87 percent of workers believe they will learn new skills to remain competitive. 

Layered Technology

There is no single solution to automate every warehouse or manufacturing process. Automation companies provide different solutions for specific challenges. When you automate your warehouse, ask your automation partners to collaborate, or select an integrator to craft the best automation cocktail. Partnerships between warehouse management system providers and automation developers are rising. As they develop, more seamless approaches to manage your operations and automation will emerge.