If there was one subject that really came to the fore at the IntraLogisteX exhibition last month it was the prospect of rapid growth in the use of robots in logistics. And it wasn’t just exhibitors that were talking about robots, it was also an issue for the visitors that I spoke to.
Co-incidentally the use of robots has been highlighted in a new DHL study. In fact, Deutsche Post DHL’s Clemens Beckmann was moved to suggest that just as our children can’t picture a world without computers, it is likely that their children will feel the same way about robots.
Beckmann, who is executive vice president innovation, Post – eCommerce – Parcel, said: “Developing the next generation of robots that can work around and among people will take a substantial investment to advance the technology but at DPDHL Group we believe that soon supply chains will see humans and robots working side by side to handle goods faster and more economically.”
Of course, we already have robots – the motor industry couldn’t function without them in the factories. Automation is well established in logistics operations, and we are seeing a modest growth in the use of autonomous vehicles.
However, the DHL study points out that about 80 per cent of logistics facilities today are still manual. There are two factors driving the move towards greater use of robots.
Rapid developments in the technology itself so that the next generation of robots will be able to see, move, react to their environment and work at precision tasks alongside people.
And there is predicted to be a labour shortage in many developed countries over the course of the next two decades – particularly problematic in the e-commerce sector which is highly labour intensive.
In logistics particularly, it’s not just an issue of getting a robot that can do the job, cost is also critical. But in a rapidly developing market, it would be dangerous to take your eye off the ball.