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Same-day delivery to drive boom in warehouse robots

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The number of warehouse robots will rise from 27,000 to over 4 million by 2025, according to a new report.

ABI Research claims that robots will be installed in over 50,000 warehouses, up from less than 4000 in 2018.

On the demand side, the report says the growth will be driven primarily by the need for greater flexibility and efficiency in fulfilment in ecommerce as same-day delivery becomes a norm. Meanwhile, on the supply side, infrastructure-light robots will become more affordable and offer a better return on investment, providing a viable alternative to traditional fixed mechanical automation or manual operations.

Nick Finill, senior analyst at ABI Research, said: “Flexibility and efficiency have become primary differentiators in the ecommerce fulfillment market as retailers and third party logistics (3PLs) struggle to cope with volatile product demand, seasonal peaks, and rising consumer delivery expectations.

“Robots enable warehouses to scale operations up or down as required while offering major efficiency gains and mitigating inherent challenges associated with labour and staffing.”

He said: “By lowering the barriers to adoption for robots in the warehouse, vendors are disrupting the wider logistics value chain. If advanced automation becomes possible for mid-size e-retailers, they will be able to fight back against the dominant players and also bring fulfillment operations back in-house, disrupting the relationship between retailers and 3PLs.”

Retailers that are already making notable use of automation are Ocado and Zalando.

The latter’s head of logistics has proposed creating an “open operating system” for automated systems, similar to Google’s Android.

“As with Android, where each app provides special functions, different robot systems will call services via the automation platform software and thus execute orders,” said Carl-Friedrich zu Knyphausen, head of logistics development at Zalando.

This software would be able to make data available for other applications so that, for example, a transport robot could call up a navigation service that is provided centrally by the operating system.

Image credit: Ocado

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