Skip to content

Robotics In Logistics – Stunning Technology With Unlimited Operational Applications

Robotics are quickly becoming a reality in supply chain operations. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advanced technology has empowered robots to support the dynamic nature of the logistics industry. Robotics now have “brains, feet, hands, and eyes”. This article provides a primer on robotics in logistics. Specifically, we will explore 7 ways robots can automate your supply chain. Also, see our article on Warehouse Robots – 7 Types Of Truly Revolutionary Smart Robotics.

Robotics In Logistics Is Quickly Becoming a Reality.

According to Fortune Business InsightsThe global logistics robots market is projected to grow from $6.17 billion in 2021 to $17.82 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 16.4% in the forecast period 2021-2028”.  Evidently, this is happening with the growing number of robotics manufacturers that are now focusing on the logistics industry. Further, these robots are now coming in a wide variety of sizes. Also, many of these robots are automated guided vehicles (AGV) used in warehouses. Hence, more and more supply chains are deploying robots to pick orders, store products, move goods, and more.  

Robotics in Logistics - Joseph Engelberger - Father of Robotics
Joseph Engelberger – “An automated machine that does just one thing is not a robot …”

Here is a little history on the origins of logistics robots. In 1954, George Charles Devol invented the first industrial robot. Then along with Joseph F. Engelberger, they started building robots that spot weld and did die cast handling for manufacturers. Over the years, industrial robotics continued to evolve and manufacturers expanded their use of robots.

Surprisingly today a lot of manufacturing robots still just do repeatable tasks. Indeed, most industrial operations do not require much machine intelligence. In fact, it is just recently that robots are starting to be more intelligent. Previously, industrial robots could not do the more dynamic tasks that logistics require. So thanks to significant advancements in software, specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics now have “brains, feet, hands, and eyes”.

See Fortune Business Insights’ Logistics Robots Market and PackagingRevolution’s The Use of Robotics in Logistics for more background and projected use of robotics in the logistics industry.

What Can Logistics Robots Do for Your Company?

robotics in logistics - future

Now robotics can do a lot for dynamic logistics operations. With AI / machine learning (ML), computer systems, autonomous navigation, and further advances in robotics, logistics robots can do a lot. Indeed, it seems like we are only limited by our imagination in implementing robotics automation to streamline logistics operations.  A study by Roland Berger analyzed the impact of robotics on logistics out till 2025. According to the study It is anticipated that there will be a reduction in the cost of logistics between 20-40%. Additionally, there will be a significant increase in productivity between 25-70%.

Even though there are large upfront costs, businesses that invest in robotics will have payback very quickly. This is  because robotics can work 24/7 as well as achieve significant labor saving. Additionally, risk of accidents are minimized, logistics tasks are shortened, and Quality Control / Quality Assurance (QC/QA) improves because of a reduction in human errors. Below is a list of logistics tasks that logistics robots can perform.

1. Automated Truck Loading And Unloading.

Unquestionably, loading and unloading trucks is both labor intensive and a highly skilled task. Further, this task includes the movement and placement of pallets. So a key requirement is for truck loaders to optimize the load by maximizing the cube of the trailer. Besides pallets, a more complicated task for truck loaders involves working with odd size packages and containers to optimally load and unload the truck. Amazingly, robots can now do these tasks.

2. Automatic Conveyors For Moving Goods Within A Warehouse or Facility.

Here goods on pallets or individual containers need to be moved in and out of storage where conveyor systems do most of the work and routing of the products. 

3. Storage Robots – Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/AR) For Movements Within Warehouses.

If goods cannot move by conveyor systems, then they need to move by individual pallets or containers. Additionally, there is a need to place the goods in and out of the storage system.  For logistics robots, this can be very complex depending on the goods being moved and the type of storage system. Indeed, planners need to think through their robotics solution in terms of technology available, costs, and labor needed as well as optimizing space and time to move goods in and out of storage. Hence, just a sampling of technology involved includes stacker cranes, autonomous robots, electric shuttle guides, aisle-climbing robots, compact storage systems, higher storage racks, and many other technologies for managing pallets and containers. 

4. Robotic Order Picking.

Without a doubt, picking individual products for a customer order is highly complex. To illustrate, a completely manual picking operation involves a person moving about a warehouse picking products for an order. Additionally, the shipping boxes need to be closed, sealed, and labeled.

With logistics robotics, warehouse designers have several choices on how robots pick orders. First, an operation can deploy goods-to-order robotics where robots bring a storage unit with product to the picker at a pick station. Second, a pick operation can use a robotic arm to pick the order in combination with conveyor belts or AS/RS robot. Lastly, there is a hybrid use case where a picking operation can use both types of robotics depending on your product mix and technology available.

5. Move Goods Between Work Areas Using Robots.

Some products need to move between work areas within a facility. In particular, a warehouse needs this capability for such things as kitting, sorting products, shipping prep, or other value added services. Here box and pallet conveyor systems can be used. In other cases, electric monorails. Other options include automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) or autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). AMRs are augmented with AI, GPS, and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. Hence, any of these intelligent robot solutions may be justified to transport goods between the various working areas in an efficient manner. 

6. Augment Inventory Management Using Robotics.

Logistics and In-store operations have used humans for many information management tasks such as physical inventory counts.  This is one example where drones or AGVs could automate the count. Additionally, warehouse designers can use robotics for tracking items within the warehouse or supply chain. Here logistics operations would use robotics technology to scan or use RFID technology to track warehouse items automatically instead of humans doing the tracking.

7. Final Mile Delivery Using Robots And Drones.

With more packages being delivered to homes, eCommerce is disrupting the parcel delivery industry. To date in the U.S. delivery carriers have not widely deployed intelligent robots to include drones and AGVs. In other countries such as China, carriers have deployed more robotics-based solutions for last-mile deliveries. In the future, there is potential for last-mile delivery carriers to further deploy this technology widely in urban areas and campuses.

See Interlakemecalux’s Logistics Robots and B2eautomation’s Top Logistics That Can Take Your Business to a New Level for more details on logistics robots and what they can do for supply chains.

For more information from Supply Chain Tech Insights, see articles on AI, data analytics, and robotics.

Don’t miss the tips from SC Tech Insights!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.