The Robotics Revolution: Solving Your Supply Chain Challenges

Posted by Advanced Mobile Group on Jul 1, 2022 8:00:00 AM

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The COVID-19 pandemic revealed some glaring weaknesses in the global supply chain. Businesses around the world learned that their networks were rife with error-prone, repeatable, process-oriented tasks, ranging from stocking and picking errors to manual documentation mistakes to problems with shipping and receiving. 

Supply chain leaders have increasingly turned to automation and robotics as an effective way to enhance existing supply chain processing and introduce new ones. Robots are able to fill a void that enterprises still face relative to delays and labor shortages. 

Here is what you need to know about the robotics revolution, some of the benefits and limitations of robotics, and how this technology can address your supply chain challenges. 

What is the Robotics Revolution?

220315-overcoming-common-warehouse-automation-challengesSupply chains are complex systems. If you think about how many moving parts there are in an efficient supply chain, you’ll quickly realize that it doesn’t take much to disrupt the entire system. And when everything is controlled manually, this creates an incredibly delicate balance. 

For many businesses, the answer lies in automation and robotics. This often brings about visions of walking, talking robots that take over all of your operations. But, the reality is that robotics are simply solutions to automate many repetitive and error-prone tasks. 

And it really is a revolution considering that only 17% of companies haven’t incorporated some type of automation into the processes. This doesn’t mean you’ll get rid of your human workers. Rather, you’ll achieve more accuracy and efficiency as you implement these solutions. 

Benefits and Limitations of Robotics

Supply chains face a variety of challenges. These range from rising customer expectations to labor shortages to dealing with transportation and other supply chain issues. But it will be harder to notice and deal with these challenges if your workers are stuck handling repetitive tasks. Here are some of the benefits and limitations of using robotics to address problematic supply chains. 

Benefits

According to Gartner, over 30% of warehouse workers will be supplemented (not replaced) by robotics by 2023. So, why are companies choosing this path? Here are some of the benefits of using robotics:

Better Customer Service

The supply chain journey begins as soon as a customer orders one of your products. But, bottlenecks in this system caused by issues with human labor can lead to errors and delays. When you supplement the system with robotics, things move faster and more efficiently, providing a better customer experience. 

Improved Employee Safety

factory-automationSafety and health regulations only allow human workers to move up to 50 pounds at a time. And people get tired after repetitively moving objects during a shift, leading to injuries and mistakes. Robots can easily lift heavy objects over and over again. They don’t get tired and can unload or load your trucks with ease. 

Keep Up With Shipping Demands

The transportation of your products to and from the warehouse is an essential part of your business. A recent study revealed that delivery costs are the top concern of nearly a quarter of supply chain professionals. Robotics can cut down on your delivery costs by streamlining your operations and re-directing employees to more important tasks. 

Protects Your Supply Chain

As anyone in this business is aware, there are always surprises waiting for you in the supply chain. An unexpected challenge, ranging from a natural disaster to a labor shortage to a broken machine, can send ripples through the entire system. Supply chain automation can mitigate some of these risks and protect your business. 

Limitations

Even if you want them to, robots can do everything. Assuming you embrace automation, it’s going to have a few limitations. 

Menial and Management Tasks

Robotics are a long way from being able to completely replace your human workforce. One of their main limitations is their lack of dexterity. Automation solutions are excellent for navigating certain environments, but they probably can’t climb stairs. 

Robots also lack the ability to form relationships with business partners and do strategic planning. Sure, artificial intelligence can streamline your workflows and provide valuable data, but you’ll want human involvement in the process. 

Cost of Automation

Another reason many companies have held back on embracing robotics is the cost. Based on one recent survey, 80% of businesses and IT leaders want to learn more about the cost of implementing AI technology, including the ROI for these solutions. 

While few companies want to be robotics guinea pigs, the technology has become so widespread that this is no longer an issue. In fact, failing to implement automation solutions risks leaving a company left behind by the competition. 

Using Robotics to Solve Your Supply Chain Challenges

Robotic warehouse automation remains a small portion of overall automation spending. But it is rapidly growing. According to advisory firm Interact Analysis, the mobile robotics market could grow to $18 billion by 2025, up from just $3.6 billion in 2021. Some of the most common types of warehouse robotics systems include:

  • Heavy payload robots that perform as autonomous forklifts;
  • Goods-to-worker robots that move shelves closer to human pickers;
  • Collaborative picker robots that trail humans in the warehouse and carry items picked for an order;
  • Static robot picking systems that pack boxes or orders;
  • Autonomous drones that observe warehouse activity and inventory tall shelves; and 
  • Facilities management robots that landscape grounds and mop floors. 

Robotics and automation do require that businesses make investments in resources, whether it be capital, planning, or both. So it’s necessary that you understand how these solutions will fit into your current operation to drive efficiency and deliver the best results possible. While some workers will be hesitant to embrace robotics, they will soon appreciate their reliability, making other parts of the human-driven tasks easier and less error-prone. 

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Topics: Supply Chain, Automation, Soft Robotics

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