Technology

Association Report: Supply Chains Embracing Robotics, Automation

By / Apr 8, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

A recent industry report finds that many companies in the supply chain are planning to introduce robotics and automation tools within the next few years. Many say the technology will create disruptions—but also bring competitive advantages.

The world of robotics is still young, but manufacturers and supply chain companies are already seeing its disruptive potential.

A new study from the consulting firm Deloitte and MHI, a major supply chain and logistics trade group, finds that 51 percent of the 900 supply chain professionals surveyed believe automation is going to be a competitive or disruptive factor in their industry—a leap from 39 percent a year ago.

That, according to the 2016 MHI Annual Industry Report, puts automation at a higher level of interest than other supply chain trends, such as inventory optimization tools and predictive analytics. Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents said they would adopt robotics and automation techniques within the next six years, while half said they would look to adopt drones or driverless vehicles within the next six-plus years. (Currently, 35 percent of respondents use robotics and automation, and just 9 percent use drones or driverless vehicles.)

“Many of the tasks that are vital to supply chains are also simple, repetitive, and monotonous, making them perfect candidates to turn over to robots,” according to the report. “For example, moving products from one area of a distribution center to another requires little skill and does not mentally stimulate the worker.”

Meanwhile, the technology is becoming safer, making it possible for human workers and automated devices to work side by side, the report notes.

MHI CEO George Prest said improved technology can increase efficiency in the logistics sector.

“The always-on supply chain has the potential to deliver massive economic and environmental rewards. It can boost productivity and sustainability, drive new markets, and encourage innovation, resulting in exponential change for industry and society as a whole,” Prest said.

The MHI survey echoes other research on the robotics trend. A survey by the shipping software company Freightos highlighted in the Wall Street Journal found that 68 percent of participating freight forwarders believed warehouse robotics would have a profound impact on the supply chain industry, above other noteworthy trends like 3D printing, self-driving vehicles, and augmented reality.

“While the vast majority of forwarders agree technology is the future of freight, they see many types of technology as overhyped,” the Freightos report stated, according to the Journal. “Warehouse robotics are the only innovation that a majority consider will have a profound impact on the industry.”

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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