The Accelerating Adoption of Robotics and Automation
There’s little downtime these days at companies that provide robotics, automation and intelligent transportation management solutions for the supply chain. Since the pandemic hit, they’ve been flooded with requests for their products.
David Clear, chief revenue officer at MHI member Vecna Robotics, has seen a huge uptick in unsolicited inquiries about his company’s products in the last six months. “More and more companies have identified that having some kind of robust and flexible automation within their operation is going to become a core competency or core value driver moving forward,” he said.
Although these companies may have previously considered automation upgrades, the supply chain problems they experienced during the pandemic helped them realize that a more proactive strategy would have provided a greater degree of operational resilience. They understand that need to act now to avoid similar problems in the future.
“One of the biggest e-commerce businesses, Amazon, had massive order congestion earlier this year due to the large number of orders stuck in the DC that took a very long time to process,” said Jonathan Rios, overseas marketing manager at MHI member Hai Robotics. “The same thing happened in many countries in different industries. After this experience, people are more aware that some operations have to continue regardless of what kind of pandemic is threatening our lives.
“Warehouses need to be more flexible, adapt to changes and be able to expand rapidly,” he added. “In this scenario, robotics can increase productivity significantly.”
Easing labor problems
Warehouses have been living with worker shortages for many years, but the pandemic exacerbated those problems. Workers who got sick or were exposed to the coronavirus were quarantined and absent for two weeks. Others refused to come into work because they feared infection. Even when employees did show up, they had to be physically separated.
Robots were able to pick up the slack from missing workers and keep workers socially distanced.
“We had a customer who expanded the use of robotic automation in their facility in order to reposition people so they weren’t working as clustered together,” said Peter Blair, VP marketing at MHI member Berkshire Grey. “They put more of their volume into the robotic system, and then had their people doing other things where they could better stay physically separated.”