ROBOTICS AND AUTOMATION
The first wave of automation using collaborative 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. Robots in particular will adopt collaborative roles in the supply chain, assisting workers with warehousing, transportation, and even last-mile delivery activities.
Key Developments & Implications
The rise of ecommerce is requiring logistics providers to operate faster and more efficiently to rapidly process small individual orders, and at the same time the industry is facing rising labor shortages. Robotics will be essential to operate in this new dynamic and, with 80% of warehouses today being manually operated, this presents immense potential for automation. Looking ahead, robotics solutions will continue to become faster, more accurate, flexible, and affordable due to swift progress in grip and sensor technologies. With an improved price/performance ratio, the adoption of robotics solutions will accelerate over the next three years.
Flexible automation in warehousing and fulfillment can use a fleet of intelligent robotics to upscale and downscale operations as needed. Stationary piece-picking robots (e.g., from Rethink Robotics) and automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) which can intelligently sense the environment around them to assist workers with tasks such as picking, packing, and sorting are seeing first major deployments in logistics. They could also be moved from warehouse to warehouse to cover changing peak seasons and be used to conduct replenishment, cycle counting, and cleaning activities overnight. Looking ahead, breakthroughs will ensure mobile piece-picking robots play a major role in future warehouse operations.
Trailer and container unloading robots are still nascent in maturity but will have a significant impact in logistics by automating this physically strenuous and repetitive task. Low-cost image recognition technologies and progress in computing power are enabling first solutions that use robotics arms equipped with powerful sensors and grippers to locate single parcels, analyze their size and shape, and determine the optimal unloading sequence.
Digital logistics service agents embedded as conversational interfaces in smart home devices (e.g., Amazon Alexa) can assist customers with real-time updates on the status of package deliveries, enable rescheduling, and notify of any delays. Interacting through voice allows users to seamlessly access logistics data. This can result in reduced customer support costs, increased user attention, and wider adoption of IoT (particularly among the elderly or disabled).
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
Project Manager - Robotics Accelerator Program
Trend Research at DHL
Julian is an enthusiastic roboticist and problem solver. In his role, he is shaping the automation agenda at DHL by introducing novel robotics technologies such as self-driving robots, drones or robotic articulated arms to the business. Within the Robotics team, he successfully drives the adoption and scaling of robotics technologies such as order picking and cleaning robots in logistics operations globally. Julian joined DHL in 2017 as a graduate intern and contributed with his simulation study to a larger robotics project involving self-driving tugger vehicles. Prior to joining DHL, Julian has gathered experience in IT consulting by doing various internships and student jobs. He is native German, has lived for a year in Mexico and obtained his Master degree abroad in the Netherlands – next to these countries Julian likes to call Italy his second home.