Workforce automation is a hot topic of discussion in many industries these days, and supply chain management and logistics is no exception. More than any other emerging technology, supply chain managers are turning to robotics to increase the efficiency of their operations and ensure that shipments stay on schedule.
According to a recent annual survey conducted by logistics industry group MHI and Deloitte, 51 percent of supply chain managers believe that robotics and automation are sources of “either disruption or competitive advantage.” This figure was up 12 percent from last year’s results. Respondents in the survey also tended to place more credence in the potential usefulness of robotics than in other emerging technologies such as cloud computing, drones and autonomous vehicles.
This increased interest in robotics and automation can be largely attributed to the rise of online distributors like Amazon.com. By leveraging automation techniques in their operations, these companies have set a new standard for fast, reliable shipping that veteran retailers like Wal-Mart are still working to catch up with. The success of Amazon and its subsidiaries has become a powerful incentive for other distributers to adopt similar automation techniques.
MHI’s study found that 35 percent of the survey respondents had already adopted robotics into their supply chains. They expect that number to grow to 74 percent in the next six to 10 years. “While the vast majority of forwarders agree technology is the future of freight, they see many types of technology as over-hyped,” concluded the report. “Warehouse robotics are the only innovation that a majority consider will have a profound impact on the industry.”
While other up-and-coming technologies such as 3D printing and cloud computing will no doubt have an impact on shipping logistics in the future, robotics stands out as the most promising field of innovation in the industry. Before too long, it may be machines rather than people that manage the day-to-day functions of warehouse operations.