Over 4 million commercial robots are expected to be installed in over 50,000 warehouses by 2025, according to ABI Research. The rapid rate of adoption will be driven by the need for flexible, efficient and automated e-commerce fulfillment as same-day delivery continues to become a standard within the industry. In addition, the growth can also be contributed to the increasing affordability and Return on Investment (ROI) of a growing variety of infrastructure-light robots as they are an attractive and versatile alternative to traditional fixed mechanical automation or manual operations.
“Flexibility and efficiency have become primary differentiators in the e-commerce fulfillment market as retailers and Third-Party Logistics (3PLs) struggle to cope with volatile product demand, seasonal peaks, and rising consumer delivery expectations,” says Nick Finill, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. “Robots enable warehouses to scale operations up or down as required while offering major efficiency gains and mitigating inherent challenges associated with labor and staffing.”
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) Goods-to-Person systems can replace heavier mechanized automation that typically requires a large investment upfront and rigid physical infrastructure. Robots enable the optimization of space in expensive warehouse facilities and can reduce the need for new and costly greenfield fulfillment centers. Mobile robotic systems also offer major flexibility advantages. Robots vendors are able to allow additional robots to be added or removed from a fleet as operational demands require. They also allow easy and relatively rapid reconfiguration of entire workflows and operations if product lines or fundamental operational requirements change. This is a major advantage in the unpredictable and dynamic e-commerce market.
With innovations in computer vision, Artificial Intelligence (AI), deep learning and robotic mechanics, robots have been used to perform tasks that are traditionally harder to automate. Economically viable mobile manipulation robots from the likes of RightHand Robotics and Kindred Systems are now enabling a wider variety of individual items to be automatically picked and placed within a fulfillment operation. By combining mobile robots, picking robots and even autonomous forklifts, fulfillment centers can achieve greater levels of automation in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
“By lowering the barriers to adoption for robots in the warehouse, vendors are disrupting the wider logistics value chain,” explained Finill. “If advanced automation becomes possible for mid-size e-retailers, they will be able to fight back against the dominant players and also bring fulfillment operations back in-house, disrupting the relationship between retailers and 3PLs.”