The Coming Tech Revolution in Warehouse Management

Supply chain leaders need to understand the strengths and limitations of AI and robotics in warehouse management.

The writing is on the wall for traditional, manual-based processes in supply chain management, says Cade Metz of The New York Times. While Amazon leads the way, other companies, including carriers such as FedEx and DHL, are testing and developing robotic-based systems to speed operations. Unfortunately, limitations of robotics continue to exist, and adaptation is the only way to achieve greater opportunities. Supply chain leaders need to understand these current limitations, and how artificial intelligence and warehouse management lead to efficiency gains and the top benefits of AI-driven robotics.

The Limitations of Robotics in Modern Warehousing Lead to Inefficiencies

Today’s level of robotics have severe limitations to mobility and use, says Steve Banker via Forbes. According to Bastiane Huang via Robotics Business Review, robots lack fundamental senses and the ability to change movements between fine and gross activities. The use of sensors can simulate senses, but every sensor will require a pre-registration of information. For example, the use of a barcode may trigger a certain defined set of actions. Moreover, they do not understand whether tasks are adequately performed due to camera and sensor limits. Translucent packaging and reflective packages can render sensors useless.

Another severe limitation concerns the high costs of implementation, including integration. The typical cost of implementing and integrating non-robot hardware can cost up to 400 times more than a single robot arm. Given that an arm costs between $10,000 and $100,000, the actual costs of robot integration could skyrocket to $400,000. That being said, warehouses that begin the process of implementing the technologies needed to plan for a robotic-driven future can reduce the costs of implementation. Building artificial intelligence within the WMS and using automation creates a robot-ready future, well-equipped for when engineers bridge the divide between robotic implementation costs and functions in the warehouse. As technology evolves, costs will decline, and more companies can deploy robots faster.

Adding Artificial Intelligence and Warehouse Management to Robotic Systems Enable Continuous Learning

The application of combined artificial intelligence and warehouse management in supply chains is becoming a reality through deep, or reinforcement learning.  This combination leverages both physical properties of products and psychological concepts to make informed decisions adding a level of consciousness to the operation. By 2030, one-third of workers in the U.S. will need to switch occupations due to the increased use of robotics as artificial intelligence matures.

Benefits of Using Artificial Intelligence in Warehouse Automation

The benefits of using robotics, driven by artificial intelligence and warehouse management, have profound implications for supply chains. These include:

  • Robots are more dexterous, flexible, and scalable than human resources, reducing strain on limited workers. 
  • Improved warehouse productivity translates into company growth that will necessitate better productivity and efficiency.
  • Decreased indirect labor costs, such as eliminating the hiring, training, and benefits of other employees, lead to additional expense savings beyond wages.
  • Increased accuracy of orders processed and picked. Since robots measure variables in making any decision, combined with automated reporting capabilities, warehouses achieve end-to-end visibility, resulting in increased accuracy of orders picked, packed, and shipped.

Plan for an AI-Driven Future of Robotics in Warehouse Management

Artificial intelligence will continue to push the brink of robotic deployment in warehouses, and artificial intelligence and warehouse management will grow intertwined as companies look for ways to augment operational efficiency and productivity. Supply chain leaders need to take the time to understand the limits of operational efficiency with simple robotics and think about the possibilities of warehouse automation through artificial intelligence and robotics.

Jason Rosing is a founding partner of Veridian; a valued Manhattan Associates, HighJump, & JDA partner and technology leader specializing in user-friendly, robust and flexible automated testing and configuration management solutions designed to meet the ever-changing challenges of the omnichannel landscape. Find out more by visiting the Veridian website.

A version of this story appeared on the Cerasis blog.

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