Apparently there are now almost 4,000 robotic warehouses. I don’t blame you if you are surprised by that, it’s more than most would expect.
The figure comes from US research group ABI, and what is less surprising is that it is predicting rapid growth over the next few years. It suggests that by 2025 there will be more than four million commercial robots installed in some 50,000 warehouses.
“Global adoption of warehouse robotics will also be spurred by the increasing affordability and 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.”
In the UK, particularly, finding people to work in warehouses has been increasingly difficult in the traditional Midland locations and there is evidence that companies are being forced to look as sites further north where the employment situation is less difficult. And, the situation has hardly been improved by Brexit.
The relatively low entry costs of many robotic solutions mean that they are being explored by organisations that wouldn’t normally consider conventional large scale automation – notably third party logistics suppliers that need to see a return on their investment within the term of a three to five year contract.
Not only that, larger organisations are exploring the use of robots in addition to their existing automation. John Munnelly, who heads operations at John Lewis’s Magna Park campus, told delegates to the Supply Chain Conference that it has plans to introduce two new robots at the facility, building on the high level of automation that it already employs.
John Lewis has been developing its automated operation for many years, but Munnelly pointed that the retailer is still “not at the end of the journey, [in fact] sometimes it feels like the start.”
For many in logistics, robotics really is the start of the journey.