The logistics and supply chain industries are currently experiencing a boom of intelligent robot solutions aimed at the automation of work processes. Global technological progress and custom logistics software development are moving forward rapidly, and with each passing year, these solutions become more affordable to all industry participants. Automation with robotics serves all kinds of purposes and constantly fills new areas, assisting industry specialists in a multitude of tasks.

In this article, we’re going to briefly review the global impact of automation and robotics on the logistics industry. First, let’s deal with the basics — how exactly is robotics used in logistics.

What is robotics in logistics, and how is it used?

The benefits the logistics industry can get from the smart use of robotics are numerous — a decrease in expenses, a general boost in productivity, and meeting the always growing demands of the customers. It doesn’t matter if you take a traditional warehouse, or some modern online e-sales startup, the supply chain is getting more and more saturated with robotics solutions, and the industry will likely continue to grow.

The thing with robots is that they can provide proficiency matching that of human workers, and in many cases they go even further, completely surpassing their human competitors. Modern technology, both hardware, and software allow robots to possess vision, dexterity, and speed capabilities akin to humans. With robotics solutions constantly getting better, new agreements and collaborations are created throughout the industry, with long-time providers of conventional automation services getting together with fresh projects and start-ups focused on high-end intelligent robotics in warehousing.

Gains in efficiency for all supply chain activities possible with the introduction of robotics are too considerable to ignore for any modern logistic company. It’s the more or less adopt-or-quit situation out there.

Let’s take a look at the types of robotic solutions most used by logistics companies nowadays.

  • AMRs — Autonomous Mobile Robots

Adopting AMRs is one of the most reliable ways to improve the productivity of your supply chain processes. They can boost the effectiveness of assisted order picking by up to 150 percent and by up to 50 percent when it comes to pallet or bin transportation within warehouses. Especially smart usage of AMR’s can get the productivity even higher.

AMRs are usually used along with human workers, operating in cohesion, but they can also be fully automated to perform certain tasks, such as cleaning facilities or providing surveillance and property mapping.

  • Stationary robots

A stationary robot is, perhaps, the type of robot most familiar to a common man. “Robotic arms”, as we know them, are quite habitual for most big manufacturing facilities as well as warehouses and other supply chain participants with loading and unloading involved.

However, these arms didn’t stay unchanged over the last several years — the global technological progress allowed them to acquire much better performance characteristics than in recent decades, and now they’ve stepped beyond storing, loading, and unloading heavy goods.

Increased levels of dexterity and precision now available to robotic arms allow them to take on such complex tasks as order sorting, random picking, assisting in packaging, and interacting with objects onto moving conveyors. The constant spreading of a robotic trend over the world makes such stationary warehouse robots more affordable and their investment costs now return much faster.

  • Micro-fulfillment

One of the more recent trends in logistic robotics, micro-fulfillment is all about automating small warehouses located in densely populated urban areas. Increased efficiency of short-time deliveries becomes a necessity in the heavily-urbanized modern society. Micro-fulfillment solutions help satisfy this necessity, creating numerous opportunities for constant fast 24/7 delivery services in locations that desperately need them.

The three aforementioned kinds of robotic solutions form the so-called “first wave of robotics”. The logistics industry right now is facing the second wave. What is it and what should industry players expect of it? Let’s take a look.

The robotics’ second wave

While the first generation of stationary and mobile robots keeps getting better along with the technological progress, the logistics industry’s best minds are trying to simultaneously follow an alternative direction for robotics’ development: to focus on fulfillment and complex solutions.

The principle of robots being simply means to an end, striving to maximize the enterprise’s efficiency by integrating them with software solutions and using them to amplify human capabilities is the essence of the second wave of robotics. One of its most prominent manifestations is so-called cobots or collaborative robots.

What are cobots?

Cobots are robots able to collaborate with human workers. The main goal of using robots is to safely amplify the capabilities of a human being.

First-generation robots are mostly designed to operate with a certain level of independence from humans and in separate locations. Operations of a robot might be dangerous for human workers to be around and most safety precautions requirements state that robotics must be turned off while accessed by humans to avoid dangers.

Cobots, however, are designed for working side by side with them. They are enhanced with sensors that allow them to monitor their surroundings and keep their operations safe while being located in the same facility as human workers. This allows to avoid unnecessary halts in production processes and saves a lot of time and money, making cobots extremely cost-efficient.

The possibilities for further development of cobots seem limitless. Besides the simple improvement of their characteristics, such as movement precision, capabilities for orientation, and more exact imitation of human activity, there is also extensive research in the area of brain-computer interfaces. Such interfaces still lack in terms of signal-reading precision, but it gets better, and can potentially open a whole new horizon of human-robot interaction.

What’s next?

With the area of possibilities for artificial intelligence robotics and automation in warehousing and logistics in general constantly growing, it can be hard to predict where the industry focus will be tomorrow. However, it is safe to assume that both first- and second generations of robots will see more extensive development and evolution in the future, be it new and improved materials create them, software novelties to manage them, or interface upgrades to interact with them.

Automation of logistics and supply chain and introduction of robotic solutions to them are only gaining tempo right now — and it would be wise to run along with the progress.