Automation is no longer a competitive advantage but a competitive imperative, if warehouse operators and distributors are to succeed, says Al Dekin, chief revenue officer and founder of Locus Robotics.
Where we used to see flexibility needed on the “fringe of a supply chain network,” now large, purpose-built warehouses for retail store replenishment have to adapt to accommodate a dramatic increase in e-commerce demand or fulfillment demand, Dekin says. “That's a major challenge.”
As it happens, there are a lot of companies willing to take advantage of recent disruptions to continue to innovate, he says. “In the end, it's all about how you react to what the market consumer wants. Look at how demand shifts, how interest shifts almost at the drop of a hat. A company that innovates, that stays on top of that, will want underlying flexibility to be able to address those opportunities.”
Innovation and continuous improvement today come with flexibility and data access, Dekin says. “It's hard to improve if you can't actually change the physical flow of goods through your warehouse. But it's equally important to have access to data, and not just data elements, but the information that can be provided so people can make decisions within a five- to 10-minute timeframe.”
That’s why automation is a competitive imperative, in his view.
Several years ago, a potential customer might have reasonably asked about the benefits of automated mobile robots. “Now, you simply can't do your job without automation. Now it's a question of what your options are [in that space] and how do you maintain a level of flexibility in a very uncertain world?”
Among those options is to implement automation technology that can scale up as the business grows and expands into new areas, Dekin says.
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