The Rise of Supply Chain Automation

general 23 March 2018

Delivery drones, self-driving vehicles, rack climbing robots; depictions formerly reserved for Sci-fi films are becoming a stark reality. Once unfathomable, with recent advances in technology a fully automated supply chain could be just around the corner…

Could this be the logisticians efficiency dream? Seven out of ten accidents would reportedly be prevented upon the introduction of driverless vehicles, with the implementation also improving fuel efficiency at an assumed ratio of 1:5 due to smarter, more efficient default routes. The Tesla Semi appears to be a scratch on the surface of endless possibilities.

Robotics in the warehouse are also stepping up a gear, with French company Exotec Solutions designing the ‘Skypod’; a robot able to climb racking, processing a reported 400 picks per hour, doubly increasing the number of orders that can be managed thus significantly shortening lead times.

Autonomous drone fleets could be the answer to the e-commerce customers’ prayers, providing the ultimate almost instantaneous virtual shopping experience. Customers are expecting more and more from the e-commerce sector; delivery within the hour could become industry standard rather than a ground-breaking novelty.

Marketing Executive Laura Hall comments ‘after recently attending a robotics exhibition at the MOSI, it’s staggering to see how far technology has advanced. Robots have not just been developed to simply interact and think like us; they’ve gone as far as to resemble us, which is both exciting and frightening. It’s easy to imagine that supply chain could become fully automated in future’.

So, what does that mean for employees? Without the expenses that arise from paid rest breaks, holidays and sickness, not to mention the countless other variables that come from the unpredictable elements of human nature, it’s forecasted that profitability could be increased by near 10%. Julian Richards, MD, comments ‘I see the progression of automation as a growth element to address increasing volume, demand and customer expectation. However, I believe a core of human operators will remain integral for many, many years”.

Expert analysis supports Julian’s hypothesis, projecting that only around 5% of all occupations are likely to become fully automated, however report artificial intelligence has the potential to be able to perform almost 50% of employee activity. This could mean, in the distant future, the supply chain could reach a point where fulfilling obligations requires little to no human intervention at all.

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