As technology advances, the field of robotics is becoming more and more prominent in various industries, and logistics is no exception. Recently, international technology group Körber has solidified its position as a major player in the field of robotics systems and installation in Eastern Europe through a partnership with the DB Schenker Prague distribution center. At Logistics Matters, we understand the importance of staying informed about the latest logistics industry developments, including autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). That’s why we sat down in an interview with Joe Couto, EVP Robotics & 3PL at Körber Business Area Supply Chain, to gain insight into the future of AMRs and the global trends shaping the industry.

What enabled the rise of AMRs over the last years?

Joe Couto: For the past several years, warehouses have been struggling with labor shortages, associated increased labor costs, and disengaged employees. There was a need to “do more with less,” utilizing the fewer available employees most effectively. From our customers’ experience, workers are more satisfied, as they can concentrate on what they do best while the robots do the ‘walking.’ The use of novelty technology is also an incentive for younger workers to pursue jobs in warehousing.

Additionally, the rise of e-commerce caused the growth of fulfillment. With the number of products shipped daily, a solution was needed to cope with this volume efficiently.

As with smartphones, technology evolves and matures rapidly. This means robotics have become more affordable – also under the aspect of a robots-as-a-service offering. Businesses now do not have to make upfront capital investments but can hire robots and have the flexibility to scale up and down (hire more or fewer robots) with fluctuating business needs. In a nutshell: they have been recognized and have a proven track record of being an efficient and scalable fulfillment solution.

Lastly, COVID has also accelerated this development. It has increased awareness. Additionally, safety measures such as social distancing or reduced employee numbers due to sickness have contributed to the need for such a solution.

What are the current market and global trends in the industry?

Joe Couto: The competency or evolution of AMR capabilities continues to grow. That means more and more fixed automation can be replaced or complimented with flexible automation, such as robotics.

Furthermore, we are increasingly seeing businesses combining different types of bots at the same site – one of our customers, Boxy, is, for example, using Geek+ goods-to-person and Libiao Robotics sortation robots at the same site, complemented by a pick and put to light system. Co-existing AMR types in a facility will become the norm, allowing businesses to leverage the key competencies of each bot and expanding the footprint of flexible and scalable automation.

With increasing complexity, we are already experiencing how software plays a larger role in orchestrating different manufacturer bots, integration with automation, voice technology, and warehouse associates.

The market never sleeps, and we are witnessing new players emerge. Bot manufacturers, from China which have been in the market from the start, are expanding globally which introduces a lot of new products to other markets.

Lastly, due to heightened awareness, businesses are increasingly including flexible mobile robotics in facility designs right from the start. This is especially the case in automated facilities.

What challenges/opportunities can be expected?

Joe Couto: The evolution of technology in AMRs is moving very rapidly – new robotics manufacturers, current manufacturers’ new products, Chinese manufacturers with new products moving into global markets, merging of technologies, voice, vision (cameras on bots), gamification, AI etc… It’s a highly fragmented market, and it can be very complex to discern what the best product for a particular use case is. Ultimately, it’s about deploying a complete solution that is backed by an organization that has experience and depth to design, deliver and support efficient, safe and cost-effective solutions.

Companies that combine this fast-emerging technology need the right software to orchestrate and manage all the components, creating opportunities for these companies and their customers. 

What does the future of AMRs look like?

Joe Couto: AMRs will continue to evolve and replace or augment fixed automation and play an expanded role within the operation. Orchestration software will increasingly leverage AI.

With the growth of popularity, we can also expect new players to enter the market, and with these, different types of bots that can handle more payload and have more capabilities. I also see increased use cases for secondary and tertiary functions, such as waste management, removal, and transportation, or what we have already seen with disinfection robots. 

Moreover, we’ll see increased integration with AMRs, such as:

–      Voice solutions and humans interacting with bots using voice

–      Gamification with bots to improve employee engagement 

–      Labor solutions integrating with bots to establish a measurable comparison of outcomes against expectations

–     Increased capture of real time valuable data that can be used to optimize efficiency of warehouse operations, such as relocation of goods within the warehouse to avoid congestion and maximize pick productivity.  

As the world continues to evolve and digitalize, it’s important to stay aware of the capabilities and advancements in robotic solutions. Körber’s partnership with DB Schenker Prague is a prime example of how companies can leverage these technologies to improve their operations and stay ahead of the curve. We look forward to seeing how the industry continues to grow and evolve in the coming years.

Published: January 2023