Robots offer a solution to both short- and long-term challenges that arise with the growth of e-commerce fulfillment, says Lior Elazary, chief executive officer and co-founder of inVia Robotics.
Before the revolution in e-commerce, warehouse automation was designed to manage full pallets containing possibly 1,000 units of the same SKU. Now, with e-tailers fulfilling individual orders for direct shipment to customers, that pallet might contain 1,000 different items. And the number of SKUs has skyrocketed. Not surprisingly, the automation required to handle product in the warehouse today is very different from its previous form.
Along with the increase in consumer demand for e-commerce fulfillment has come the evolution of artificial intelligence, which is essential to managing complex order profiles and up to 1 million SKUs within a single distribution facility. “AI is extremely important,” says Elazary. “There’s a huge dance you have to do inside a warehouse, coordinating all of those items moving in harmony.”
The technology might be more complex, but what’s required for implementation is far easier today. In the past, says Elazary, it might take two to three years to fully install a complex automated system. Now, it can be incorporated much more quickly. The key lies in understand each facility’s unique workflows, and what level of service they’re required to provide.
The arrival of modern-day robotics and AI was a matter of good timing, Elazary says, given the severity of the current supply chain crisis and the need to manage a surge of demand by e-commerce shoppers. Nevertheless, there’s work to be done in applying new technology to those operations, many of which still rely on the old pallet-oriented handling systems. “We don’t have enough of it deployed,” he says. “We’re trying to move as quickly as possible.”
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