"Flexibility" can be a vague term when it comes to logistics and distribution operations. Andy Williams, executive vice president of sales for North America with Exotec, defines what the word means in the context of the warehouse, and why it's more essential than ever.
“We’ve seen volatility and uncertainty rear their ugly heads in the recent past with COVID-19,” Williams says. The result has been a number of “unknowns” that frustrate businesses’ efforts to accurately plan for demand. They’re grappling with constant shifts in product SKUs and order types. But one way to address those changes, while optimizing productivity in the warehouse, is through the use of robotics.
There’s never been a greater need for flexibility, Williams says. But a decade ago, robotics technology wasn’t mature enough to address the problem. Now, it has reached a level of sophistication that allows companies to streamline their supply chains and respond to the “Amazon Effect” on customer-service expectations. “Robotics are guarding against uncertainty,” he says.
Modern-day robotics allows users to invest as they go, and adjust the level of units required in line with seasonal demand. To prepare for Black Friday, for example, it’s much easier to add robots rather than scramble to find enough temporary workers for a few months. The technology can also aid in the shift in activity across channels, such as moving from case-level to “each” volume to fulfill online orders.
Williams doesn’t believe that there will ever be a time when warehouse operations return to “normal,” or when flexibility isn’t a must. It’s no surprise, then, that robotics technology is currently undergoing a “steep trajectory” in adoption.
Flexibility doesn’t come at the expense of performance, Williams says. “Robots are able to handle a wide variety of loads and missions. They just operate as instructed.”
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