Robotics: role of robots in the modern supply chain

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The increasing use of technology that marks the so-called Industry 4.0, has been discussed by different economic sectors in order to meet the global changes that have occurred in recent decades.

This concern has been reinforced recently as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has impacted (and will continue to impact, according to forecasts) our lives over the coming years.

There are several examples of technological advances and challenges that are happening in areas of the economy. In the supply chain, for example, one of the challenges is the automation of activities that are done by humans.

According to a DHL study on robotics in logistics, around 80% of operations center activities are still done manually, but this number will change dramatically in the near future.

Experiences are already being made in this regard and you will learn about some of them by reading this article. Come take a look!

Impact of robotics on the supply chain

A recent post from the RoboticsBiz portal, specialized in the subject, says that there are two relevant issues related to the modern supply chain: the first one refers to the growing need for technology to handle the quantity of deliveries (for example, data prove the increase in demand for online retail sales in countries like the United States, China, France, Germany, United Kingdom, among others). The second, on the other hand, points to the reduction in the availability of skilled labor focused on this type of service.

Forbes magazine also recently published an article on the subject, discussing the impacts of autonomous technology on the supply chain, by helping to transport goods without human participation (or with reduced interference) and more accurate inventory control.

Until recently, there were many technological difficulties for the implementation of robots in supply chains and logistics activities. However, this issue is developing rapidly and today we can see robots that have a high degree of accuracy in their functions, which helps to reduce costs and increase productivity.

Besides the use of robots in warehouses, a subject previously discussed in an article about the benefits of an intelligent supply chain, there are other solutions being developed that are in different stages of improvement and are also important for the modern supply chain. Check out some of them below.

1. Store Robots

There are already some cases of mobile robots and drones in stores, helping to control the stock and price of products on the shelves. Recently, Walmart announced it will use Bossa Nova Robotics company robots to carry out these activities, making the work of its units’ employees easier.

2. Autonomous trucks

Case studies of the use of stand-alone trucks, such as in iron mines in Australia, show that they can help increase the efficiency of companies and the safety of teams.

Several development tests of autonomous trucks have already been conducted in recent years. Uber, for example, has already conducted a successful experiment three years ago, but has decided to prioritize other fronts of its business – other important players in the stand-alone truck market are: Embark, Daimler/Mercedes, Volvo, Tesla and TuSimple.

However, there are a number of obstacles to this type of activity: there is a significant risk of accidents that can lead to people dying. The public perception of the safety of this type of vehicle is a crucial point that will influence the future of autonomous trucks.

Another challenge is to reduce investments in the development of autonomous trucks. Starsky Robots is a case in point: it has had successful experiences with this type of truck in recent years, but it is closing its activities because of the reduction of financial contributions.

One possibility for the future is the change of focus, from totally autonomous vehicles to simpler semi-autonomous models, which will allow the reduction of human action, with the participation of robots in certain stages of the supply chain.

3. Autonomous deliveries

The delivery system (among them the “last mile” from the distribution center to the customer) becomes more complex with the increasing demand for home delivery, which creates the need for investments in automation to reduce costs and support workers in order to increase productivity.

Several companies are already testing this technology in cities and university campuses. The idea is that robots take the order to people’s homes, and one must type a code to release the product that is in the trunk. Ford, for example, has been testing the technology to feel the reception of customers regarding this type of delivery.

It is important to note that robots can also help workers with more complex deliveries, with the use of exoskeletons that will help lift and handle larger and heavier loads. Drones can also be used for deliveries, in cases of people living in remote locations. And robots will be able to receive the order in the customers’ homes, in case they are not available.

4. Autonomous freight trains

Tests have also been conducted in the United States for this type of autonomous transport. Federal regulations in the country are tending towards a release of the product, however, the authorities reinforce the need for anti-collision technologies to avoid accidents. As a solution, cargo transportation companies have already begun to implement Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning systems in their safety protocols.

Challenges for the future

There are a number of initiatives that are promoting increased automation in the supply chain. For the improvement of this activity, advanced technology centers are being created to stimulate innovation and development of solutions (such as Honeywell Robots in the United States).

For example, an important new feature predicted is that the robots of the future will be connected to the cloud, which allows even greater control and accuracy in their tasks.

Challenges such as public perception, security and law enforcement will have to be addressed, including in the supply chain. However, experts indicate a promising future for this area.

The use of robots in the supply chain is still at an early stage, but promises to offer many facilities to companies.

And speaking of facilities, Soluparts is a company specialized in indirect material procurement and is available to optimize your purchasing process. Talk to our experts and learn more!

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