The recent ProMat and Automate conferences, held in Chicago, featured robotics and automated material handling equipment. “Solve for X,” the theme of the conference, emphasized the need for manufacturers, warehousing, and third party logistics companies to embrace the change to stay relevant.
Rather than focusing on the technological capabilities of these high-efficiency robots, our team attended ProMat and Automate with an eye towards how robotics can improve warehouse efficiencies in tandem with other technologies like Transportation Management Systems. As we strolled the aisles, observing robots in demonstration booths, we reflected on the results of the 2017 MHI survey. The MHI survey, the fourth in a series of annual industry reports, developed in conjunction with Deloitte Consulting, focused on “Next-Generation Supply Chains: Digital, On-Demand and Always-On.” The survey received 1,100 responses from manufacturing and supply chain industry leaders.
Approximately 80 percent of the respondents to the survey said automation will dominate the logistics industry in the next five years. Even more relevant, 61 percent of MHI survey respondents indicated that they view robotics and automation of warehouse material handling equipment as either a disruption or an advantage in the supply chain industry. For comparison’s sake, 39 percent of respondents to the 2015 MHI survey reported this view on robotics and automation.
If the opinions of survey respondents and the result of an intensive research is to go by, using current logistics methods in urban areas is unsustainable. Sorting robots that use flights and pushers within a small warehouse footprint, such as in a dense urban setting, will maximize efficiency. Small unit robots in warehouses like Amazon’s Kiva robots, and delivery bot-pods like Skype founders’ new food delivery venture, Starship Technologies, will be key to reducing congestion and gaining efficiencies both inside and outside the warehouse.
The goal is seamless operation of automated systems, without human intervention being necessary, except in special cases
Technological disruptions are considered positive for industries. Assuming that robots will indeed become the norm in most warehouses and distribution centers, logistics software companies will need to keep pace with their customer’s changing operational requirements. Transportation Management Systems (TMS) will need to identify the most cost-effective delivery mode, as well as enable programmable track, trace features and fully integrate with robotic warehouse pickers, to assure inventory accuracy. Omnichannel retailers and other firms interested in optimizing their distribution and supply chain efficiency would be wise to develop a strong and lasting partnership with a TMS company that can completely customize the desired product. For example, as a client’s transportation requirements increase or change, say from 10 large-box orders a day to 1,000 small piece orders a day, a TMS will need to adapt to those changes. A highly scalable TMS, which is tightly integrated with the company’s Warehouse Management System (WMS), will be integral to the client’s success in its transportation business.
As the warehousing and logistics industry moves forward and comes to rely more and more on robotics and automation, integration between various technologies will become paramount. Moreover, effectively integrating a warehouse picking robot with a TMS is the first step, but next, clients will need to ensure those two technologies integrate well with their Order Management Systems, WMSes, and other legacy systems.
Lights-out automation also will be much more possible with robots, creating a new set of safety considerations such as creating adaptive zones, complying with new regulations and providing both bots and humans with clear instructions on how to operate within the designated zones. Similarly, transportation rules and business needs for customers will change, without the intervention of a human, in the warehouse picking process. Driverless trucks will pick up shipments from completely automated warehouses, relying on customized coded TMS programs to ensure accurate pick-up, delivery and trans-loading times and confirm inventory details.
Companies that are cognizant of their TMS’ abilities also will help others plan for the integration of additional technologies and automation,” Howe added. “The goal is the seamless operation of automated systems, without human intervention being necessary, except in special cases.”
Has your organization implemented automated technologies yet, be it warehouse robotics, automated lift equipment or driverless trucks? How have you adapted your legacy programs to integrate with the new robotics? Have you noticed changes in operational efficiencies, labor costs or even utility bills? (Automated lift trucks can work in the dark.) We’d like to hear from you. The future is now.
360data software delivers cloud-based logistics solutions to optimize supply chain efficiency and realize savings.