While most warehouses (80%) don’t have any automation whatsoever, around 5% have been steadily investing in the future of warehouse robotics, which shows us that there’s still plenty of room for the industry to grow. Companies taking advantage of these trends continue to dominate the industry. For example, Amazon, the country’s largest online retailer, already has more than 350,000 autonomous robots working in its fulfillment centers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of warehouse automation as companies look for ways to insulate themselves from possible disruptions in the supply chain. A recent study from private-capital data and research company Pitchbook shows that the global robotics market will grow to $45.5 billion in 2022, up from $35.7 billion in 2021. The report also shows that venture capital investment in robotics reached a record $7.5 billion as of November 22, 2021, up from $3.6 billion in 2020.
So, where does the industry go from here? Take a look at our top warehouse robotics trends for 2022.
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Increased Cooperation Between Robots and Humans
Human workers will still have a role to play, but more companies are starting to leverage what is known as “co-bots” to help increase efficiency. These devices and programs work in tandem with the employee as they physically retrieve items from the shelf or prepare orders for shipment. This is often much easier and cheaper than replacing workers with machines outright.
Co-bots can be used in different ways. Voice-to-pick devices come with intercoms and headsets that let workers interact with the system. The robot will automatically guide them to the item in question. It may also tell the worker which items to grab as they fulfill orders. This keeps the person focused on the task at hand instead of having them look back at the screen.
Other workers may be fitted with wearable devices, such as wrist and armbands, that improve productivity. The device will track the worker’s location as they move through the facility. It can also point them in the right direction when picking products. It may even provide information on how to safely pick the item or direct them to the nearest lift truck when moving a pallet container. This technology can also be used to limit the number of face-to-face interactions in the workplace, which reduces the spread of COVID-19.
Climbable Pick Robots
Not only are robots becoming more common, but they’re also getting more dexterous too. Several companies have pioneered what is known as climbable pick robots or self-picking robots that can climb stack racks all on their own. Engineers say these bots are capable of retrieving goods on shelves up to 12 meters high while climbing at a rate of 1.5 meters per second.
Major retailers like Gap and Uniqlo have already been utilizing these services to get through the holiday rush. It’s also easy to add or remove robots based on demand or the volume of orders. Storing goods up high can also help companies store more goods in the space they already have.
WMS Automation Integration Platforms
If there’s anything the pandemic taught us it’s that collaboration and communication are key. Companies are upgrading their automated warehouse systems to make sure they are compatible with the programs their partners and supplies are using. WMS automation integration platforms can quickly capture data from one system and replicate it another to keep both parties on the same page.
This is especially important when working with partners overseas. The global supply chain runs on data. If this information is delayed or inaccurate, it can cause confusion and disruption throughout the system. The integration program will update all records in real-time to ensure 100% visibility.
Getting the finished product to the consumer has always been a challenge for retailers and manufacturers. The pandemic only made things more difficult. Customers and companies experienced long wait times, unexpected product shortages, and high transit costs.
That’s why more companies are investing in what’s known as micro-fulfillment, which breaks up the supply chain into a series of smaller steps and processes. Instead of moving the product from the main warehouse directly to the consumer, companies are moving their goods to micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs). These facilities are usually completely automated with robots doing 100% of the picking. They are located near large urban areas with fast access to consumers.
Companies will typically rent out storage space in an MFC to keep their goods closer to the end-user. This reduces the cost of delivery while speeding up travel times. In many cases, it’s the only way to get the item to the consumer in just 48 hours or less.
Supply Chain as a Service (SCaaS)
In line with MFCs, companies are starting to realize that they can’t do everything by themselves. Whether it’s manufacturing products or distributing merchandise, many firms are starting to work with third parties that provide supply chain services. These parties often have the resources to invest in the latest technology and multiple fulfillment centers. Small and mid-size companies can pay a set rate to use their services, which helps them compete with larger players like Walmart and Amazon.
The warehousing industry will never be the same again after the pandemic. In many ways, machines are better equipped to move products across the supply chain than humans. Robots will continue to play a large role in the industry in 2022 and beyond.