Sales and revenue is also consistently rising, sparking an expansion on a grand-scale. Giants, like Amazon, E-Bay and Alibaba, are now in possession of enormous storage facilities and warehouses all across the world, housing consumer goods waiting to be purchased and shipped worldwide.
Triggering fierce competition, companies are continuously looking at ways to gain every specific lead by improving the customer experience. Shortening the waiting period, and increasing shipment accuracy and ease of purchase have increased costs, due to the massive demand for man-power. However, at the same time, companies have also started investing in and introducing new software and technology to improve logistics at their storage facilities.
Robotics manufacturers seized this opportunity and introduced robots into e-commerce. Robots have cut costs and improved warehouse logistics, but at the same time they are making human workers obsolete. Although automation of storage facilities is still an expensive solution for numerous small companies, big names in e-commerce have all resorted to some level of automation, raising the question: are robots about to take over e-commerce warehouses?
Paving the Way for Robotics
In 2012, Amazon introduced the first robots into their storage facilities. Kiva robots (re-labeled as Amazon robots) were single-handedly responsible for Amazon’s rise to power. Amazon quickly realized that automation, together with human workers, was a winning combination. With this, the company achieved two things: cut operating expenses, and made their facilities more efficient. Quickly seizing the opportunity, they bought off the Kiva manufacturer, and essentially, Amazon sparked the robot race in e-commerce.
Amazon’s monopoly provided a demand that generated the rise of startup robotics manufacturers, who are still developing and re-designing robots and software to take advantage of the gap in the market. In 2014, Fetch Robotics provided companies with a complete pick and pack system by introducing their Fetch and Freight robots. This robotic team is also envisioned to work alongside human staff, performing the repetitive tasks of picking out items. Another rising star in the world of e-commerce robotics is the Indian-based Grey Orange Company, which has developed the butler system, which picks entire portable shelves and carries them to their human counterparts.
How It Works
Robots are located at their powering station in a specific part of a warehouse. Once an order is received, a unit receives the information about the purchase via the control center. It processes that information, and is sent to retrieve the product. The control center monitors the traffic of other robots, while a sensory system guides the robot to its destination through the maze of storage pods. The robot selects the dedicated package, or the entire pod, and makes its way to the picking station. There, an employee picks the item intended for shipment, while the robot returns the rest of its cargo to storage, and awaits the next order.
The Advantages of Investing in Automation
Despite the fact that it is a substantial investment, companies that switched to a semi-automated system cut back on staffing costs, which are greater than all other expenses. The transition to an automated structure relies mostly on one-time investments. Purchasing robots and necessary equipment, re-designing the warehouse and implementing new storage solutions are all single payments. The main expense, however, is the robotics and software engineers, who monitor robot activity in control centers, and carry out bi-monthly inspections and service repairs. Still, with an increase of sales and productivity, any e-commerce company can expect a quick return on investment.
It is still early days for robots, but they have shown promising potential, at least in the rapidly developing industry of e-commerce. With high demand and an exploitable market, it is anyone’s game, but one thing is sure – robots are definitely taking over e-commerce warehouses across the world.