Tantalising tech tools 

Tantalising tech tools 

The logistics and warehousing sectors have not been left behind in the technology boom of the last decade, with robots and artificial intelligence on the rise.

Modern warehouses are being compelled to give some serious thought to using robotics, due to technological improvements and a more competitive business environment. This has been highlighted by leading international market research company ResearchAndMarkets.com.

“Robots for warehouses are no longer just nice-to-have extras; they are now essential to effective warehouse operations due to their capacity to boost productivity, precision, and operational efficiency. The execution of mundane, repetitive jobs can be automated by warehouse automation, which brings value to numerous warehousing operations by freeing up human workers to work on more challenging duties,” it says in its report: “Global Warehouse Robotics Market Size, Share and Industry Trends Analysis Report by Function, by Application, by Products, by Payload Capacity, by Component, and by Regional Outlook and Forecast, 2023-2029”.

“Robots in warehousing handle the labour-intensive, demanding, and risky portions of warehouse operations, like delivering merchandise and removing it from heights,” the report continues. “As a result, warehouse robots relieve the physical and emotional stress on human workers by assuming some hazardous and demanding activities.” It goes on to note that reduced stress on employees helps to boost morale, increasing productivity and improving the working environment. “With the proper robots, warehouses may improve operational effectiveness, reduce error rates, and deliver orders more precisely,” it adds. 

It’s no surprise that ResearchAndMarkets.com predicts global warehouse robotics market size to reach US$13.9 billion by 2029, rising at a compound annual growth rate of 19%. “The market has been expanding due to factors such as the expansion of warehouses, increasing expenditures in warehouse automation, an increase in labour expenses globally, and the accessibility of scalable technology solutions,” it elaborates.

These developments aren’t without their hiccups, though, as deploying highly efficient robots is expensive. As a result, the report indicates that startups view robot deployment in factories as impractical due to the small size of their operations, with the costs of upkeep and repairs for robotic devices also varying significantly. “Furthermore, there is still work on the customisation required for robots to be useful for specific businesses. Because of the high implementation costs and lack of compatibility, the market for warehouse robotics isn’t expanding as quickly as it could,” the report emphasises. 

Warehousing isn’t the only sector reaping the benefits of technological advances. “Increasingly, AI is used to automate and optimise supply chain operations. The growing number of AI-based innovations and the increasing cost of manual labour are making the use of AI in logistics more and more attractive, fuelling the optimisation of integrated logistics,” explains Silvia La Face, Maersk’s digital customer communication manager, in her piece, “Key ways artificial intelligence (AI) will power integrated logistics”.

“In the context of supply chain management, this transformation (also referred to as ‘platform change’) could transform the way we plan, execute, and optimise the movement of goods from one location to another,” writes La Face. She highlights various areas where the implementation of AI and machine learning (ML) will soon reshape processes and modi operandi:

Innovations in fraud detection, for example, can be used to prevent fraudulent activities in the supply chain, such as theft, counterfeiting, and unauthorised access to sensitive data.

Demand forecasting tools can help predict demand patterns more accurately by analysing historical sales data, market trends, weather, and possible disruptions. This enables better inventory planning and reduces stockouts.

Predictive maintenance can identify potential issues before they occur by monitoring equipment and assets in real-time. This helps to reduce downtime and maintenance costs, as well as improve overall equipment effectiveness. The concrete applications here are relevant for all assets owners looking to optimise up-time, including warehouse owners, terminal operators, and fleet managers.

Real-time supply chain monitoring and adjustment can help identify potential bottlenecks and delays, enabling companies to proactively take corrective actions. AI provides real-time visibility into the entire supply chain, from raw materials to finished products. Digital twin technology (a virtual, realistic replica of a physical asset or system like a truck, warehouse, or supply chain) helps with both performance improvement and strategic purposes. Digital twin simulations can be used to visualise supply chain operation performance, manage potential disruptions, and stress-test supply chain resilience by modelling scenarios such as changing distribution flows. This acquired visibility into supply chains improves risk management and decision-making, as well as customer experience.

With the use of AI and ML, the automation of warehouse and transportation operations becomes possible. This includes software systems used for forecasting, inventory management, and route planning, as well as automated assets like robots, picking arms, drones, forklifts, and trucks. Automation can help companies reduce costs and improve efficiency, while also improving their customer service levels.

AI can also increase personalisation by generating recommendations for customers based on their purchase history, business fundamentals (such as industry, size, and value chain), search history, and other data. This can improve customer experience and increase sales by predicting next best actions and/or optimisation ideas.

Autonomous processes are increasingly coming to the fore thanks to AI. There is now the potential to autonomously run entire work processes with multi-source data input and workflows that require inputs from those processes. This can be done via AI and AI agents, which are AI tools able to autonomously perform consecutive AI tasks and then provide multiple outputs with just one input.

“Without a doubt, AI is here to revolutionise the world, logistics included,” La Face writes. Along with the rise of robotics in warehousing, this tantalising tech tool paints an optimistic and productive picture for the future of these sectors.

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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