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Businesses Turn to Robots for Better, Faster Distribution

Companies are turning to robots to fill their labor shortages, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

A helping hand: “Businesses are using software-powered robotic arms to sort clothing and e-commerce parcels, pack bread and industrial supplies and, in some cases, pick electronics and consumer products from larger bins to prepare orders for delivery.”

  • Some manufacturers are using robotic arms to assemble apparel orders at distribution centers, while others are using “a combination of cameras, grippers and artificial intelligence to pluck items from bins that another automated system delivers to workstations usually staffed by people.”
  • Robots perform with accuracy approximately 99% of the time.

“Growing rapidly”: “Robotic picking technology ‘is a niche today in the overall warehouse automation market, but it’s growing rapidly,’ said Ash Sharma, managing director of market-research firm Interact Analysis. That sliver of the market will reach $1.34 billion in 2025 from an estimated $137 million last year, the firm projects. The broader warehouse automation market was nearly $36 billion last year, Interact Analysis estimates.”

Ironing out wrinkles: Machines do well at repetitive tasks in unchanging environments but getting them to handle varying items in warehouses has been a tougher ask.

  • “Right now, using robots to pick orders makes most financial sense in 24/7 operations with a limited number of products, said Hasan Dandashly, chief executive of Atlanta-based Dematic Corp., a subsidiary of KION Group AG that is one of [the] largest providers of logistics and manufacturing automation. ‘The pace of adoption is still evolving,’ Mr. Dandashly said. ‘I don’t think we are on the verge of not having human pickers anytime soon.’”
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