Rise of the robots: how robotic technology could change the game for logistics

How can robots assist the logistics industry

A quick look back over history will show that, as time goes on, innovations in technology give us new ways of completing everyday tasks: instead of boiling water on a stove for a cup of tea, we now use a kettle; instead of sending letters, we use email. And in the industrial world it’s no different, as companies look to increase productivity, decrease costs and safeguard their future. Often, the difference between a profit-making company and one that goes out of business is the speed with which they innovated their processes and embraced new technologies.

The logistics industry is no different; to stay competitive in the distribution and fulfilment trade, speed, reliability and reputation are key to getting ahead. In order to do so new technologies are crucial, but there is one type of technology that turns more heads than any other: robots. In this article, we take a look at how robotics are changing the industrial workplace and think about some of the ways that logistics could be affected by it.

The logistics process warehousing

A number of components of the logistics process in the warehouse have been targeted by robotics firms for improvement. Identified among these is the loading and unloading function, in which operatives lift, twist, bend and place items onto the haulage vehicle ready for departure. The process can, at times, be lengthy and robotics companies argue that the risk of the workforce sustaining injuries during these tasks is relatively high.

As such, robotic technology has been developed which eliminates these issues. The machinery on offer loads (or unloads) haulage vehicles, working its way through the vehicle until it is completely (un)loaded. Then, if the task requires, the same machine will depalletize incoming stock, decreasing unloading time and increasing efficiency. A further point in favour of this technology is that the risk of damage to products is greatly reduced, thanks to the consistent, smooth movement of the machine.

No driver? No problem

We turn now to some robotic technology that is a bit further in the future, but will arguably have a much greater impact when it arrives. In the last few years a great deal of news coverage has been devoted to the rise of driverless cars, and with good reason. Arguably the greatest innovation to the automobile industry since Henry Ford’s creativity, driverless cars rely on cutting edge technology to travel from A to B safely and quickly, and so far no serious accidents have been recorded in which the driverless car is at fault.

The potential for these robotic motor vehicles in the logistics industry is enormous. With such large focus on shipping goods within very specific time frames and reaching customers as quickly and efficiently as possible, driverless haulage vehicles would not be subject to the same ‘Driver’s hours’ laws that prohibit lorry drivers from spending too much time at the wheel in one day and ultimately meaning greatly reduced delivery times. The technology is in very early stages, however, and it will be decades before anything close to this will be seen on the road.

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