Cobots: the next revolution for logistics?

25 September 2019

Robotic systems have been around for some time. However, a number of supply side trends are driving their widespread adoption. With the number of robotics in warehouses expected to increase to four million by 2025 it raises questions concerning what they are and what they can do.

What is a robot?

Robots are machines designed to execute one or more tasks automatically with speed and precision. Robots can be guided by an external control device or the control may be embedded within. Robots can have smart interactions with humans.


What are the main tasks of robotics in logistics?

  • Robots are adopted in warehouses to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Robotics have become a standard within fulfilment centres, capable of undertaking repetitive, standardised tasks, such as picking or moving inventory, more quickly and accurately than humans. Some sources claim there is a 40% increase in a production lines’ output when one key employee is replaced by a robot. One British online grocery retailer noted that sales increased by 12% to $2bn after implementing robotics within its warehouses.
  • Additionally, robots can be adapted to changing conditions or increasing work demands in a stress labor market. This is particularly useful during peak seasons. Shippers and logistics providers are able to use flexible solutions such as ‘robotics as a service’ (RaaS), for example, allowing them to hire robotics on demand and without vast capital expenditure.
  • Robots also eliminate hazardous and physically demanding tasks, reducing the likelihood of workplace accidents.

Many of the highly repetitive jobs undertaken in the warehouse are best suited to robots, allowing human resources to be redirected to more complex, valuable tasks which in turn improve job satisfaction. Automation in warehouses will likely encourage the growth of new jobs which include designing, operating, programming and maintaining the robots.


Interacting with humans

Robotics also have applications in the retail sector. Capable of transmitting and collecting real-time data, robots help to improve inventory management as retailers use the information to respond to and anticipate consumer demands. For example, US home improvement retailer, Lowes, has created an in-store robot which tracks real-time, on-shelf product data. The robots move through the aisles, using cameras to check stock availability and gather information.


The Future: strategic human-robot partnerships  COBOT (Collaborative Robot)

Already robots are a prominent feature within the logistics industry and the market is expected to be worth $80.64bn by 2023.

Next-generation robots (COBOT) will have the ability to work in close proximity with humans, creating a wider range of applications. Advances in technology will unlock more value and efficiency within the logistics industry. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a significant role in unlocking this value. Combining these technologies will enable robots to become ‘intelligent’ and react to the context and circumstances in which they operate. As a result, robots will have the capabilities to interact and respond to situations based on their knowledge and interact collaboratively with humans and the supply chain eco- system.