Robots at the Warehouse: Changing the Face of Modern Logistics

In the News
June 18, 2016

When consumers order from Amazon.com Inc., particularly using its streamlined Prime service, they receive several automated messages of the shipment status. Often within 48 hours, the package arrives.

Part of Amazon’s secret sauce to make this happen is robots. The online retailer’s Seattle operation aggressively uses robots for order fulfillment. The company operates a growing fleet of 30,000 robots.

According to a Deutsche Bank study, Amazon’s Kiva robots have saved it considerable time and space, as well as $22 million for each fulfillment center that uses the Kiva robots so far.

Robots are assisting in loading everything from corrugated cartons to soiled hospital linens. Half of supply chain managers expect to benefit from increasing logistics automation within the decade.

Time and cost reductions are always at the top of any operations manager’s mind. These savings are even more desirable in today’s go-go supply chain, where time to market is critical for companies that compete globally for market share.

Convenience is just as important to consumers and retailers as choice, reported Lux Research.

Many businesses beyond factories and warehouses are are following Amazon’s example in seeking robots to accelerate their operations.

Aethon’s TUG helps hospitals
Aethon Inc.‘s TUG robots are used in healthcare facilities for tasks such as delivering medications from a pharmacy to nursing stations throughout the facility. The TUG robot has been installed in about 140 hospitals throughout the U.S.

TUG transports and delivers medications, laboratory specimens, meals, linen, and surgical supplies. It can also haul a variety of environmental services payloads such as trash, regulated medical waste, and soiled linen. At one facility in Kentucky, the TUG delivers over 400 medication orders daily, and travels about 5.5 miles.

“As nurses, we want to provide the best care possible to patients. Medications are central to patient care as well as their comfort,” said Benita Utz, vice president of nursing at St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Fort Thomas, Ky. “The TUG has been very reliable, predictable, and easy to use. It has made our jobs as nurses more efficient and has eliminated calls to the pharmacy looking for medication deliveries.”

Mobile robot market still growing
According to market research firm Technavio, the global logistics robots market is expected to reach $2.15 billion by 2020, growing at about a 32 percent compound annual growth rate.

Though robots have many uses for logistics support, warehouses and factories have lead the charge in robotics utility as a meaningful way to accomplish labor. Technavio expects this trend to continue. It will likely be driven by consumer appetite for quick delivery of products — particularly for online ordering from vendors like Amazon.

According to their research, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and legged robots, as well as aerial drones, are becoming commonplace in warehouses for inspections, security, inventory management, and data gathering. Robots move packages, cartons, and shipments and can actually unload them from a truck.

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