- Although interest in commercial service robots is "exceptionally high," just more than 16% of 600 participants — across eight industries — recently surveyed by IDC say they have deployed the technology either enterprise-wide or at the local level.
- Most of the respondents appear to be in the research-and-testing phase of the technology's implementation, with 2 in 5 respondents noting they are piloting service robotics, while more than half said they "plan to deploy" or are "researching and considering the technology."
- The survey* also found 8.3% of respondents said they have no plans to adopt the technology. In a separate question, more than 50% of respondents said the top reason for not "considering the use of robots" was that it was "not a valid technology for my organization."
Are robots the future for supply chain? At first glance, the survey could seem to lean that way with many companies — across a wide range of industries — noting the potential value of robots to their operations. "Representatives across a range of industries are using or considering the use of commercial service robots at some point in the near future, so what?" wrote John Santagate, research director at IDC, in a blog post evaluating the survey.
He continues to write that industries such as wholesale and distribution that, today, have 0% deployment of service robotics, had more than 50% of respondents say they were piloting the technology within their operations. Those numbers indicate that supply chains at large are on path to adopting more automation.
However, as the IDC research also shows, despite the interest and potential plans, companies and their executives still face large obstacles to adoption — the largest being understanding the technology.
"I do believe a lack of understanding of the current use cases and availability of commercial service robots is constraining [decision makers'] ability to view commercial service robots as a valid technology for their business," Santagate told Supply Chain Dive in an email.
He recounted a story from a conference earlier this year, where he spoke about robots in the supply chain. "Later in the day, a gentleman that worked for a 3PL in a warehouse said that autonomous mobile robots are not valid for their business model," he wrote. "When I asked why, he stated that it is because their SKU's and product mix change all the time ... He didn't realize that AMR's can still be used in such environments."
That lack of awareness, especially as the technology evolves to meet current-day needs, is a key issue to adoption. Santagate listed other emerging use cases that businesses could use, but may not know about. They include:
- Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in order fulfillment
- Autonomous inventory counting
- Collaborative robotics in downstream operations
- Robots for industrial inspections
"The key thing to remember, is that these robots are taking on tasks," he said. "So if there is a task that is dull, dirty, or dangerous and can be physically completed by a robot, it makes sense to explore the option."
Santagate warned, however, that just because something can be automated does not mean that it should. Automation should always be done for a reason, he said, whether it be to improve operations, cost, safety of employees, or "provide some other tangible piece of value that can be showcased."
*Report title: Commercial Service Robotics Survey IDC, July, 2018.