Never mind the reindeer and elves. This year, robots are helping deliver the holidays.
Gap Inc. is using automated arms and artificial intelligence to sort the retailer’s clothing orders. Walmart Inc. is testing robots that roam store aisles to check inventory and tell workers where to find goods. And logistics providers are sending mobile step-stools mounted with shelves through fulfillment centers to help pull online orders for toys, apparel and Disney Corp. products.
With the busy holiday peak looming, retailers and logistics companies are ramping up automation as surging demand for labor outstrips the number of available workers. Much of the technology is being used in distribution operations, where workers pulling carts or driving forklifts are increasingly working alongside machines built to keep goods moving at a rapid pace.
“It’s a fight for talent…It’s like ‘Game of Thrones’ out there,” said Erik Caldwell, chief operating officer for supply chain in the Americas and Asia Pacific at XPO Logistics Inc., at an industry conference earlier this year, discussing the company’s use of robots to fulfill online orders.
The use of robotics and other automation technology in industrial operations is growing, although the vast majority of warehouse work remains largely manual. About 16.5 percent of organizations across several industries including warehousing are now using commercial service robots, and 21.5 percent have them in pilots, according to a 2018 survey of 600 respondents by research firm IDC.
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