Three Key Trends in IoT, Robotics, and Wearables
In the race to exceed customer expectations and capitalize on competitive differentiators, warehouses and distribution centers (DCs) are serving as strategic assets instead of just “places to store stuff.” By optimizing workflows and order picking/packing accuracy; improving inventory management; and better utilizing human labor, technology is literally reshaping the logistics industry.
By creating more agile, flexible fulfillment environments, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and wearables are helping companies shore up their bottom lines, work more efficiently, and meet customers’ demands. Here’s how:
The robotics market that’s centered on logistics and transportation companies is primed for rapid growth over the next five years. Currently, around 80% of warehouses are manually operated,meaning they have no automation support. That’s about to change in a big way.
In 2016, the logistics robotic market had a global market revenue of $1.9 billion. In 2021, a recent study predicts market revenue for the global sector to reach $22.4 billion. In the same amount of time, robot unit shipments will grow from 40,000 to 620,000 annually.
“Robotics continues to evolve along a number of paths,” says John Stikes, DB Schenker’s Director of Innovation and E-Commerce. For example, the development of the flexible static arm robot has produced a number of very useful robotic arms that can manipulate a wide range of items in a wide variety of uses.
“Mobile robots continue to develop quickly through a variety of form factors and navigation technologies,” says Stikes, noting that there are also fully-autonomous mobile robotic picking solutions that are viable for a large number of clients. “All of these developments open the door for more 3PLs and logistics providers that want to work smarter, better, and more competitively.”
Internet of Things (IoT)
Defined as the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment, IoT is making big waves in logistics right now.
With Gartner predicting that more than half of new business processes will incorporate some element of IoT by 2020—and that during the same timeframe the number of Internet-connected “smart” devices will balloon to 26 billion—the research firm expects this increase to “significantly alter how the supply chain operates.”
Stikes says that both IoT and sensor technology have grown steadily in the third-party logistics (3PL) space over the last couple of years.
“These sensors are becoming very inexpensive and, when coupled with the growing field of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI),” says Stikes, “produces insights that allows firms to see the full cross-section of their business and make much more informed decisions.”
Readily available for years, wearable technology and its potential for improving warehouse operations is rapidly raising its profile. Wearable technology like smart glasses and augmented reality (AR) are transforming the modern-day warehouse, while more established wearables (i.e., voice headsets and activity-tracking bracelets), continue to make their own inroads in the field, according to Inbound Logistics.
“We’ve seen large-scale changes in the wearable space over the last year or so,” says Stikes. “Wearable manufactures are building products that are becoming more affordable, have better battery life, and most importantly, run on upgradable operating systems.”
The latter is particularly important for 3PLs that want to be able to upgrade their software and hardware independently, thus shortening the cycle time needed for process changes. This level of flexibility is imperative in the logistics industry, where providers need to be able to scale up and down on the dime.”
As more technology solutions are introduced to the marketplace, the number of 3PLs integrating them into their operations will also grow. “From IoT to robotics to wearables, the solutions that are being produced right now are all being developed with an eye on flexibility, agility, and collaboration,” Stikes concludes. “This has opened the door for 3PLs to create highly-customized, tailored processes and programs for their own clients.”