By: Maggie M. Barnett, Esq., COO at ShipHero
If you’re of a certain age, you’ve been waiting for the robot apocalypse for a while. It’s doubtful that our robot overlords will speak in an Austrian accent, but one thing is certain – robots are coming. And they are coming to warehouses and distribution centers quickly.
According to a recent study by Modern Materials Management and Vecna Robotics, 27% of companies surveyed currently use automated guided vehicles (AGV) and technologies for materials handling. That’s a little more than 1 in 4. So, while it may seem like the use of robots in distribution and warehouses is still on the horizon, it appears they are marching forward at a steady and quick pace.
In the same study, 42% of respondents said they currently use AGVs or plan to invest in them in the next 12 months, while 39% said they currently use autonomous mobile robots (AMR) or plan to make an investment in the next 12 months. The revolution has begun.
Practical Applications for Warehouse Robots
It may seem that investing in AMRs or AGVs for your warehouse is a silly ego play; a way to one-up your competition. However, these automated technologies have far-reaching and important applications within warehouses and can greatly help to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
The most common execution for AMRs is automated picking. Through a mix of warehouse execution software (WES) and onboard sensors, AMRs can move through the warehouse, picking orders from barcode-labeled bins. This type of barcode picking is used with human workers as well, but as in most instances, a machine will be more efficient than a human.
AGVs can also be used to move pallets and large racks, reorganize inventory layouts and provide inventory counts. However, none of these functions will work without a human to program the robot and oversee performance.
ShipHero has an integration with 6 River Systems, a leader in warehouse automation robotics with their flagship product, Chuck. If you are interested in learning more about how ShipHero works with 6 River Systems, please reach out to your customer service manager.
Last Mile Delivery Automation
Perhaps the greatest area of recent growth and the one with the most room for innovation is the use of robotics and automation in the last mile. Last mile delivery seems to be the latest buzz term, and for good reason. The last mile is the shortest distance and often the most expensive in the eCommerce ecosystem. Efficiencies in the last mile can save money, reduce environmental pollution and increase customer satisfaction.
So, how are robots being used in the last mile? Let’s take a look.
- Drones: While it once seemed laughable, the idea that a drone could show up on your doorstep with a package dangling from its undercarriage is a real possibility. Amazon has been talking about this since 2013, and finally got approval from the FAA last year. Walmart has announced a similar program, proving that where Amazon paves a path, others will follow.
- Autonomous Delivery Vehicles (ADV): ADVs are to large orders what drones are to small ones. The impact of ADVs could be felt not only within short distance routes, but long-distance ones as well. Companies like Plus.ai and Waymo have been testing the feasibility of this automation, and have been met with encouraging results.
- Robot Deliveries: There’s also the promise of on-the-ground robots that will make deliveries via small scale technologies that can be deployed in neighborhoods and arrive right on your doorstep. Additionally, this type of automation could work wonders for smaller scale delivery needs, like a college campus or office building complex. Starship Technologies is already working on a campus-based robot delivery system.
The Reality of Automation
With the rise of use cases for automation and robotics in the warehouse and delivery industries, the costs will start to lower, allowing more businesses to take advantage of these technologies, and truly compete with their larger competitors. What was once considered a lark, has now become a plastic and motherboard reality and it will be up to businesses of all sizes to determine the best way to use this technology and if the overall savings will justify the upfront costs and investment.
But, make no mistake, the robots are coming. In fact, they’re already here.
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Maggie M. Barnett, Esq., COO
About the author: Maggie M. Barnett, Esq., is the COO of ShipHero. She is responsible for planning and executing the overall operational, legal, managerial and administrative procedures, reporting structures and operational controls of the organization. Barnett’s greatest strengths are leadership, risk mitigation, change management and a passion for business transformation. She is known for her expertise in delivering operational excellence and an ability to provide guidance and mitigating risk. Her leadership of ShipHero is grounded in a servant mentality, always doing the right thing for our stakeholders. Her passion for ShipHero comes from the ability to drive operational excellence throughout the organization impacting the lives of our employees, customers, and partners.