Cobots, maybe your new colleagues in warehouse logistics

It is getting old but I repeat it again, many companies working with e-commerce and omni-channel see their logistics costs increase in an unhealthy manner. Due to the increased pressure on logistics, we also see a labor shortage in many regions.

Due to the above challenges, technological development in logistics is going faster than ever before. Innovation and disruptive are two words that are now synonymous with warehouse logistics.

As I written before, the biggest item in the budget is labor costs and the most effective way to reduce labor is to automate processes in warehouse. Established automation solutions such as cranes and shuttles are financially expensive. There is limited number of companies who can make an attractive ROI on such solution, even if you work with omni-channel. Another aspect is the risk of being stuck in a rigid solution that cannot handle peaks such as Christmas and Black Friday.

There is a need for technology that is more scalable and agile and does not require financial muscles as the established solutions, which also attracts medium-sized companies in e-commerce. Robotic technology could be an answer to that. The technology is more affordable to a broader array of companies today thanks to advancements in technology and lower costs components.

When we hear the word robot, most of us think of a machine anchored to the floor and properly fenced in cages to protect human beings. That is not the kind of robots that is interesting for warehouses. We are talking about cobot (collaborative robots) who work in close collaboration with humans thanks to advanced technologies such as AI, lidar / radar, GPS, and the latest connectivity. Cobots are packed with advanced sensors and vision technology to avoid accidents with humans. They are developed to work close to humans. Thanks to AI and machine learning, the cobots can be versatile and is getting better and better on their tasks over time.

The primary goal with cobots is to complement and augment human labor in the warehouse. The warehouse tasks for cobots is still limited but the technology is still in its infancy. However, development is moving forward and there is coming innovations at a very fast pace. You can find robotics programs at reputable universities such as MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Georgia Tech for example.

The ongoing digital transformation in warehouse logistics market makes a great opportunity for new companies in robotics to create value.  RaaS (Robotics as a Service) is a business model that attracts small and medium-sized companies and allows them to compete with the big giants. Cobot technology is very scalable and agile, you can increase the number of cobots when you have peaks in work load. Robotics companies can offer full-service solutions and provide attractive opportunities to build value for warehouses. Some examples of Robotic companies is 6 River Systems, Righthand Robotics, inVia Robotics and Locus Robotics.

Cobots change how we think about humans-robots dynamics.

I am sure we will not see any fully robotic or automated warehouses in the near future. However, I am sure that we will have to get used to new colleagues in the warehouse, our cobots.

Roberth Karlsson

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