Questions you absolutely must consider include: Buy Considerations when outsourcing to reduce cost The decision to outsource a part or assembly is often based on lack of internal resources, refocus of core competencies, or cost reduction.
At the same time, technological advances such as the Internet of Things, automated transportation and similar futuristic innovations, have been offering the promise of disruption for the last few years without really delivering, although there is little doubt that they will, maybe inor maybe later.
How Did the Trends Progress? As this article proved extremely popular, I thought it worth adding a few updates to follow progress on the six trends. Depending on the response received by the latest updates, I may revisit this article yet again with additional updates to Trends 4, 5, and 6.
Key Logistics Trend 1: Warehouse Robotics in the Supply Chain Automation is already well established in many distribution centres around the world, but for most, it is limited to workflow automation managed by increasingly advanced warehouse management systems.
The situation is changing however, as more and more MHE manufacturers bring warehouse robotics to market.
Robotic solutions offer the ability to introduce automation into DC operations without the need for major structural alterations. However, the real tipping point in the warehouse robotics trend will arrive when technology vendors master the art of true robotic picking, where robots are able to pick orders from conventional racking.
Right now, trends in robotic picking are related to systems which bring goods to the picker, requiring a considerable amount of specialised racking and conveyance equipment. When robots can pick conventionally from shelves or floor-locations, warehouse operators will be quick to seize the opportunity to switch from manual to largely automated distribution centres.
Here are a few highlights: Climbing Robots in France: A French robotics company has developed a warehouse robot that can actually climb warehouse racks to pick from any level, then transition to surface transportation to carry orders to human workers. Capable of picking up to orders in an hourthe robots are already in operation with one French online retailer.
Swarming Robots in England: Ecommerce grocery chain Ocado brought a new automated warehouse into full service this year. The warehouse has no aisles and every centimetre of floor-space is filled to just below ceiling height with inventory.
A swarm of hundreds of robots works above the stacks of inventory, digging down to grab boxes and carry them to the minimal human workforce, which then packs the groceries for home delivery.
The picking robots, which are each of a similar size to a washing machine, number more than 1, They have no intelligence as individual units, but are coordinated as a swarm by a central computer.
This means that each robot follows a set of specific instructions. For more complex tasks, such as digging deep into a stack of crates to find a slow-moving SKU, a number of the robots can work together to quickly locate and retrieve the item, much as ants, for example, will work together to drag a dead insect to the nest.
The winner of the challenge was Vecna Robotics, a company that provides complete robotics solutions for warehouse operators. Vecna showcased their combination of collaborative picking and conveyor robots, which can work in warehouses with conventional shelving to pick cartons and boxes, and then move them to pallet-building areas.
The Vecna automatons use innovative vision systems, similar to those being developed for autonomous cars, to navigate complex environments and avoid colliding with human operatives, human-controlled warehouse trucks, or other robots. Robotic Piece Picking Closer to Reality in Following the success in the DHL challenge, Vecna has begun working in partnership with robotics companies developing piece-picking as opposed to carton-picking robotic arms, with the aim of supplying customers with more complex and complete robotic warehouse ecosystems.
One of those partners is RightHand Robotics, a company claiming to hold the current world record for robotic piece picking, with their RightPick system, which uses machine-learning technology and can pick at rates of up to 1, units per hour, even with the inclusion of items that the solution has never previously encountered.
Cost and Efficiency Benefits of Warehouse Robotics Of all the six trends explored in this article, warehouse robotics appears to be the one where the most important advances are being made. As at Q3 ofrobots have become a common sight in warehouses that largely run full-pallet picking operations or have a relatively low number of SKUs.
While robots are currently less prolific where carton and piece picking prevails, the experience of Amazon bodes well for companies waiting for the right time to implement robotic picking operations.
These cost savings largely stem from improved efficiency, with cycle times in robot-equipped fulfilment centres slashed from minutes plus, to around 15 minutes.
Key Logistics Trend 2: Driverless vehicles have already proven themselves as a realistic way to slash the cost of transport, once all the legal, safety, and social acceptance issues are overcome. However, Volvo recently unveiled a new prototype autonomous truck in Beijing, China, and in the United States, a company called Embark Trucks is testing driverless technology while hauling refrigerators on a mile route along low-volume highways between Texas and California.
It does seem then, that the trend quietly continues, although as Volvo Group CEO, Martin Lundstedt himself stated while commenting on the Chinese tests and I also suggested when penning this post nearly a year agothe technology is probably still a long way from becoming a serious operational reality.
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