Warehouse automation is gaining traction among operators of manual distribution and fulfillment centers amid demand pressures, customer expectations driving e-commerce, workforce churn and shortages, and an emerging mix of larger and more complex facilities catering to last-mile delivery.
An explosion of flexible cloud-based visibility and robotics systems running on existing warehouse management and enterprise software — notably automated mobile robots (AMRs) provided on a leased, robotics-as-a-service basis — now offer low-cost alternatives to fixed conveyor and track systems. But how effective are these new solutions at enterprise scale? And, in an increasingly crowded field, what metrics should operators be using to mitigate risk in their selection processes?
As the time-definite e-commerce fulfillment model is extended to more traditional B2B freight, for example, and space for segregated operations grows, it’s critical that providers have the robots, software and integration capability to manage multiple use cases, up to and including case picking and putaway, building and cross-docking of pallets and reverse logistics. A single vendor expert in all aspects of fulfillment reduces implementation lead times, integration costs and risks of platform conflicts.
As automation comes to both existing brownfield sites closer to last-mile customers, often in tight spaces with structural and operational constraints, and to large, regional greenfield operations with multiple floors and hundreds of employees and robots, vendors must bring to the table different configuration and integration skill sets to navigate both.
A growing market focus on resilience requires operators to surge, reduce or reallocate space, assets and people quickly, to keep inventory aligned with demand during seasonal peaks, weather or pandemic-related disruptions unforeseen congestion. That requires not only fleet capacity among the full range of robot types but actionable data and visibility generated by those robots on the warehouse floor, to support decision-making, scenario testing and future planning.
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