Intralogistics robots are key to untangling supply chain

Posted by Geekplus on Mar 25, 2024 8:15:51 AM

Global retailers and shippers have been laser-focused on supply chain resiliency since straightening out the logistics knots that began to tangle during the first months of the pandemic.

Even the government is getting in on the movement with a cabinet-level supply chain council to explore logistics initiatives.


Although the U.S. Council on Supply Chain Resilience’s initial policy suggestions don’t mention warehouse fulfillment, the unceasing growth of global e-commerce means that optimizing order fulfillment is a crucial component of any strategy. Fast, error-free picking at facilities can prevent supply chain chokepoints from developing. Establishing a streamlined picking operation supported by mobile robots is the best way to ensure fulfillment accuracy and efficiency even amid labor shortages.

Picking involves locating and collecting the products or items that have been ordered by customers from the warehouse shelves. In a traditional manual picking environment, it’s an undesirable job; workers walk to locate and retrieve goods from designated storage locations based on order lists, then repeat the process all day long.

Integrating mobile shelves and robots is one way to provide inherent picking and order fulfillment flexibility, allowing for quick adjustments and replication of solutions when growth necessitates expansion. Shelf-to-Person mobile robots, a category of Goods-to-Person solutions where the goods are automatically brought to the worker instead of them walking to retrieve the goods, are designed to be intuitive and easy to use. Employees can start working with the robots effectively after just a short training period.

Distribution center workers are still the backbone of any successful supply chain. Giving them the automated solutions needed to properly handle an ever-increasing flow of orders simply allows them to do their jobs better. In an era of supply chain disruptions, fast fulfillment, aided by mobile robotic solutions, is a competitive advantage.

Mobile robots and warehouse automation strategies can also lead to better inventory management. 3PLs and retailers are still striving to strike the optimal balance between pre-pandemic lean inventory strategies like historically predominant just-in-time manufacturing and a just-in-case inventory management style. It’s clear that supply chain resilience isn’t based in just-in-time inventory management, but operators are still attracted to that model, especially during uncertain economic times.

Whatever the inventory strategy, early supply chain technology adopters have been optimizing distribution centers for years with autonomous mobile robots. The most successful of these operators have committed to becoming true partners in mobile robot innovation, choosing a provider that treats them more than a user and more like a trusted collaborator.

Goods-to-Person and particularly Shelf-to-Person robots are the future of order fulfillment. These aren’t plug-and-play, one-size-fits-all solutions: To tap into the promise of mobile fulfillment robots, retail partners should examine with a provider how to properly adopt mobile robotics solutions into well-established fulfillment operations and then adapt that strategy as business needs change. Dozens of mobile robot manufacturers and providers populate the current market. Examine them closely, noting that scalability and flexibility are crucial in a solution but so also are the company’s vision and reliability.

If current trends hold, many more retailers and 3PLs, even those averse to technological change, will need to take an active role in the development behind their Goods-to-Person strategy. Interact Analysis estimates American warehouses will have 2.7 million robots activated by 2027. Those robots will be distributed across 12 percent of the facilities in the U.S., up from just 1 percent in 2022.

This trend doesn’t mean retailers and manufacturers need to adjust how they work. Mobile robot solutions are flexible and can be integrated into any current environment, fitting into current processes without significant shifts in operations.

A smart warehouse automation strategy allows customers to quickly scale up their use of robots for optimization during periods of great activity, flexibly reorienting their infrastructure to meet changing customer demands. That’s true supply chain resilience.

Learn why Geekplus is your reliable partner for innovative order fulfillment solutions, allowing business to grow at their own pace and scale up quickly to meet new consumer demands.


Topics: Supply Chain, goods-to-person, 3PL, 2024, tote-to-person