How Robots are Upgrading the Supply Chain Industry

    Warehouse robots and AI-powered systems are helping distribution centers meet demands in a fast-paced world.

    When you place an order online today – whether it’s for a new pair of sneakers to be delivered to your doorstep, or inventory for your brick-and-mortar store – you expect faster-than-ever delivery.

    For teams at distribution centers, fulfilling those demands means getting merchandise out the door quicker and more efficiently than ever.

    More and more, companies with warehouses are looking to innovations like robotics and systems powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning amid a changing and aging workforce and evolving customer demands.

    In a 2021 survey of 50 retailers conducted by the Retail Industry Leaders Association and McKinsey & Company, 80% of respondents said they plan to concentrate their 2022 supply chain spending on addressing e-commerce fulfillment, and 64% of retailers surveyed said that automating warehouse roles was a priority.

    Here’s a look at some of the latest innovations in automation revolutionizing the supply chain industry.

    Mobile robots that sense their surroundings

    One of the fastest-growing automation solutions for distribution centers happens to be one of the smallest in size.

    Enter autonomous mobile robots – AMRs for short – which can be set up and learn their surroundings in short amounts of time, often in just a few hours. These self-navigating robots can respond to changes without human intervention. For example, the robot can detect if their original path in a warehouse is being blocked and will find a different route on its own. 

    In distribution centers, AMRs can be used to move pallets or carts through the space. Picking times can be reduced by nearly 50% when mobile robots take over transport tasks alone.

    Robots that handle labor-intensive tasks

    One of the most repetitive, injury-prone tasks in distribution centers is loading and unloading pallets of goods. Robots designed to take on that specific task can help alleviate those roles from employees.

    An example is the smart flexible depalletizer, a robot that uses computer vision, machine learning, artificial intelligence and gripping technology to load and unload pallets automatically and without any pre-programming.

    AI-powered solutions 

    Traditionally, workers in e-commerce distribution centers hand-pick and return inventory. The future is automated storage and retrieval systems that utilize artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms to achieve accurate orders without manual intervention. Compared to manual picking methods, the automated storage and retrieval systems can deliver between a 30% and 40% increase in throughput.

    From warehouses to storefronts, retail companies are using technology to upgrade every aspect of the shopping experience.