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Logistics operations develop growing thirst for automation

Smart intralogistics robots will become part of most large enterprises. This is the prediction of Gartner that will see 25% of supply chain decisions being made across intelligent edge ecosystems as soon as 2025 driven by evolving data communications networks including 5G.

“Historically, digital supply chain investments prioritised large-scale, centralised applications in domains such as manufacturing and logistics,” said Andrew Stevens, senior director analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain Practice. “Edges are physical locations where things, people, and data connect. Increasingly, supply chains are becoming more dynamic and cover larger networks where data and decisions originate at the edge – from operators, machines, sensors or devices.”

75% of companies with large warehouse and distribution operations will incorporate some form of robotics at facilities within the next five years. Image credit: Tham Yuan Yuan | Pixabay

75% of companies with large warehouse and distribution operations will incorporate some form of robotics at facilities within the next five years. Image credit: Tham Yuan Yuan | Pixabay

Edge ecosystems transform operations by allowing decision making close to the original source of information. Enabling data processing, communications and storage at the point of data capture creates more even workflows, distributes data capacity and streamlines real-time responses to stakeholders who need to make decisions.

Advances in data communications services, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 5G, are poised to support edge ecosystems and complement traditional centralised supply chain solutions with more virtualised and remote networks processing data. Across many supply chains, edge computing decision making is already occurring, and the focus over the next three years will be to identify more use cases where connected automated and autonomous networks of edge decisions can be further enabled.

Logistics operations have developed a growing thirst for flexible automation. Gartner predicts that 75% of large enterprises will have adopted some form of intralogistics smart robots in their warehouse operations by 2026. Smart intralogistics robots are specialised forms of cyber-physical robotic automation primarily aimed at warehouse and distribution centre environments.

“Labour availability constraints, rapidly rising labour rates and the residual impacts of Covid-19 will compel most companies to invest in cyber-physical systems, especially intralogistics smart robots,” said Dwight Klappich, vice president analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice.

These solutions address the need to automate certain processes by adding intelligence, guidance, and sensory awareness, allowing them to operate independently from and/or around humans. There are many flexible robots use cases such as transporting pallets of goods, delivering goods to a person, or picking individual items. They can more readily and inexpensively be implemented and can be easily scaled to better manage extremes in peaks and troughs of demand.

Because of the adaptive nature of intralogistics smart robots, companies can pilot use cases for low, upfront investment and continue to test new and varying use cases as they become more familiar with the technologies.

“The good news is that there are already many flexible robotics use cases, and it is important to evaluate the best fits to an organisation’s specific needs. Supply chain leaders should take full advantage of growing trends in robotics by creating an organisation led by a chief robotics officer, or equivalent role, within their organisation,” Klappich concluded.