The use of automation and robotics in the supply chain is not new, but it is increasingly identified as both a disruptive force and a competitive advantage by supply chain leaders.
In the 2016 MHI Annual Industry Report, 51 percent of survey respondents said the technology has the potential to disrupt the industry and offer an advantage to companies that leverage it appropriately. While adoption of robotics is currently only 35 percent, that number is expected to rise to 74 percent in the next six to 10 years. There are a number of reasons supply chain leaders are evaluating robotic technology for their companies, says Tom Galluzzo, Ph.D., chief executive officer of MHI 2016 Innovation Award finalist IAM Robotics. With customers ordering more products online and expecting delivery in a matter of days, or sometimes hours, the need to fulfill those orders places greater demand on the supply chain. “Unfortunately, 90 percent of the market relies on manual labor, and people can’t become exponentially faster,” he says. “Add the rising cost of labor and a labor shortage as the current workforce ages, and supply chain leaders are turning to robots as a solution.”
Innovations in robotic technology along with the increasing number of companies entering the supply chain robotics market are making robots fiscally more attractive, says Galluzzo. The advent of the mobile autonomous robot that navigates without a need for markers, magnets, beacons or tracks to guide its movement adds more flexibility in the robot’s use. “The warehouse management system (WMS) can determine where the robot is most needed,” he explains. “Because the robotic technology integrates with other systems, there is no need to change a WMS.”
By Sheryl S. Jackson