- More than 4 million robots are expected to be in more than 50,000 warehouses worldwide by 2025, up from 4,000 robotic warehouses in 2018, according to a report by ABI Research.
- A majority of the growth is expected in Asia-Pacific countries like China, Japan and South Korea, Nick Finill, a senior analyst at ABI Research and an author of the report, told Supply Chain Dive in an email.
- "The primary way in which robots have been used so far in warehouses is for moving goods within the facility," Finill said. "Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which follow rigid tracks or markers on the ground, and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), which navigate freely and autonomously using vision systems, are able to do this."
E-commerce growth is expected to drive greater need for robotic and automated systems. More packages come through fulfillment centers, and companies offer faster shipping times, which means facilities must be efficient.
Amazon is one of the companies using robots to help with order fulfillment and faster delivery times. It pays for some of its employees to go back to school to study robotics as part of its Career Choice program.
"'The Amazon Effect' is certainly a contributing factor in the adoption of AMRs, but by no means is this growth limited only to e-commerce," CEO of Fetch Robotics Melonee Wise told Supply Chian Dive in an email. "There are countless warehouses and logistics facilities looking at AMRs that aren’t categorized as e-commerce. From what I’m seeing, the biggest impact on growth facing our customers is the extraordinary shortage of workers."
The warehouse market faces inherent challenges in recruiting and retaining labor, Finill said. Fulfillment centers tend to be located away from urban centers and offer minimum wage to workers. "Labor shortages and high costs, increased order volumes and the need to reduce order fulfillment times are creating a perfect storm that can be alleviated by automation," he said.
Joe Checkler, a spokesperson for XPO Logistics, said robots can be especially helpful during peak season when "cobots do some of the more tedious work, freeing up our coworkers to help them avoid congestion in the warehouse." XPO announced last year plans to deploy 5,000 warehouse robots in North America and Europe.
Adoption of robots is becoming increasingly affordable with options that include "Robotics-as-a-Service" models that could make the technology more available to mid-market companies, Finill said.
"The barriers to adoption have all but disappeared and the economics are compelling," said Wise.