Although experts have touted robotics ability to boost efficiency in distribution, the technology’s capabilities are gaining even more attention as beverage industry players face labor scarcity, cost challenges and larger eCommerce fullfillment demands. .
In an August report titled “The Impact of COVID-19 on Tech Innovation,” Boston-based Lux Research, provider of tech-enabled research and advisory services, predicts that the need for “greater agility” will increase demand for robotics.
“There will be an upward trend in robotics due to the need for infection prevention and improving resiliency,” says Kevin See, vice president of research at Lux and co-author of the report. “COVID-19 will push major manufacturing and logistics operations to assess the potential of robotics moving forward.”
John Seidl, partner at Atlanta-based GreyOrange says other major trends impacting robotics are rising labor costs, labor scarcity, increased expectations for orders to be fulfilled faster with while maintaining accuracy and minimized damage. These trends coupled with the high cost of building additional distribution centers or expanding existing warehouse space are making robotics an attractive solution to beverage distributors.
“The beverage industry can rely on robotics to replace manually operated forklifts in support of moving pallets of product from place to place, along with case- or unit-level processing of inventory, inclusive of palletizing, picking, sorting and building of shipments,” Seidl says. “The robotics solutions inclusive of their controls software also provide much better data for business performance analytics and supply chain visibility.”
According to a June report by Selbyville, Del.-based Market Study Report Worldwide, growth in robotics also can be attributed to an inclination toward online shopping that has resulted in rapid expansion of the eCommerce sector, which in turn is fostering the demand for effective delivery systems across the globe.
“Delivery robot market size accounted for $14.18 billion in the year 2019 and is expected to reach $54.30 billion by 2027 at a growth rate of 18.2 percent between 2020 and 2027,” the report states.
As beverage distributors face increased demands to move more products and at faster rates, operators that delegate repetitive tasks to robots can using labor to handle more complex functions, helping to boost efficiency, says Gijo George, director of national accounts at Greenville, N.C.-based Hyster Co. But it doesn’t have to be a one or other proposition as robotics and manual approaches can work together in tandem, he adds.
“Mobile robots are adept at traveling long distances, continuously moving pallet loads and smaller quantities from point A to point B, without breaks or fatigue, and are advanced enough to detect obstacles and adjust accordingly, relying on their own ‘map’ of the facility to continue their prescribed path,” George says. “Humans, on the other hand, lack the ability to continuously move between pick locations without tiring. However, they do have the most advanced perception, cognition and motion-planning systems in the world.”
Mark Koffarnus, national accounts director at Greenville, N.C.-based Yale Materials Handling Corp. says that navigation is a rapidly evolving sect of robotics. For example, while traditional automated guided vehicles (AGVs) require installing guidance infrastructure such as wires, magnets or tape, mobile robotics systems instead map physical structures such as walls, pillars or racking and use Lidar to detect their surroundings.
“[Mobile robotics are] programmed around existing physical structures and are easily re-programmable to accommodate multiple routes and changes in the environment,” he says.
Because it uses a combination of sensors and 3-D cameras for maximum precision and effectiveness at higher-level storage locations, Yale’s lift truck is ideal for beverage manufacturers and distributors looking to maximize vertical storage space to accommodate inventory growth, Koffarnus adds.
Advancement in motion
As today’s robotic solutions are designed with a certain set of tasks in mind, Hyster’s George advises that managers identify the best-fit workflows to deploy robots.
“Using positions with consistent staffing challenges as a guide, companies can find where robotic abilities overlap to automate entire processes or key repetitive elements to boost efficiency,” he says.
GreyOrange’s Seidl suggests that opportunity for robotics could lie in portable automation to address micro-fulfillment in local markets, as placing the right inventory closer to the customer allows demands to be met more quickly and more cost competitively.
“A dynamic fulfillment strategy that can be changed or even relocated based on holiday or season demand is key, along with the ability to offer ‘pop-up’ fulfillment centers that utilize advanced robotics to meet demand,” Seidl says. “Some of our customers are utilizing robotics to support the click-and-collect online shopping channel, where the customer orders online and comes to the store to pick up their purchase — an experience that is fully automated via robotics.”
According to the 2019 Materials Handling Industry (MHI) Annual Industry Report, 87 percent of survey respondents identified robotics and automation as technologies that will have a significant impact on the supply chain during the next 10 years.
“With the market showing a greater appetite for robotics, more providers will join the market and end-users must become better-informed consumers of robotics solutions and services,” Yale’s Koffarnus concludes. “This practical knowledge is critical to select vendor partners, set realistic goals and ultimately experience successful results.”