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Distribution Center Robots Among Automation Market Expected to Nearly Double by 2023

Distribution Center Robots Among Automation Market Expected to Nearly Double by 2023

An increasing number of distribution companies are seeing the benefits of distribution center robots, which include greater efficiency and speed, quality assurance and safer working conditions (fewer injuries to human workers). Because of this demand, a recent study by MarketsAndMarkets shows the industrial robotics market is expected to almost double from $38.11 billion in 2016 to $71.72 billion by 2023.

Manufacturing and distribution center robots are key assets on production lines across multiple industries, including automotive, food, metals, electronics and chemicals. They are especially beneficial when they take over tasks that are dangerous for human workers, such as heavy lifting. Force sensing and vision systems allow robots to adapt to changes in part position or orientation and allow them to work as reliable cobots (collaborative robots,) increasing versatility and efficiency.

Distribution Center Robots in Action

Robots are vital components in the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 ecosystems—return on an investment after installing robots is about two years. According to a recent PwC report, about 60% of all manufacturers use some type of robotics technology, especially as they become more affordable and scalable.  These economics allow smaller to mid-sized shops to profitably invest in them.

Key jobs for robots in the distribution and manufacturing environments include:

  • Palletizing and de-palletizing—robotic palletizers handle cases, drums, bags or trays quickly and efficiently, lifting payloads that weigh a ton or more
  • Autonomous guided vehicles—move materials from production and processing lines or supply materials, or palletized materials to shipping points
  • Assembly—advanced vision systems and force sensing allow robots to identify and retrieve components from a conveyor and connect it with another component 
  • Pick and place—warehouses utilize robots to pick and place products, often in collaboration with human workers, which shortens fulfillment times
  • Quality inspection—with advanced vision systems, robots can serve as quality inspectors, looking for errors in products or processes

Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) is emerging as a new business model, especially for smaller companies that do not require “lights out” operation. Up-front costs with RaaS are minimal, because “robots are programmed to execute complicated computations on a cloud server, making the cost associated with employee adoption minimal,” states Ritika Dhar, a research analyst at Grand View Research. Organization verticals can deploy a fleet of robots to support multiple business functions, thereby reducing the average cost of ownership. Cloud-based robotics technology also enables resource sharing, which further reduces the additional cost incurred by the enterprise.

Robots Are the Future of Distribution

Manufacturing supply chains—including distribution—are under intense pressure to meet the growing demands for product customization and fast delivery into the marketplace. Therefore distribution centers and distributors are turning to industrial robotics to improve quality, speed, and efficiency to satisfy their manufacturing customers. Robots can be programmed to operate 24/7 when needed and can be highly cost-effective for nearly every size of company. Through machine learning, robots become smarter as they work and can interact effectively with human workers in the distribution environment. 

Although companies must be bold in how they integrate industrial robots into their distribution and manufacturing systems, they must also be strategic in their long-term planning, cautions Antony Bourne, vice president of global industry solutions at IFS, a global enterprise software provider. “This goes beyond simply assessing whether the solution is cohesive with other systems and includes a strategic approach to encouraging employees to embrace robotics more,” he says. “As this next wave of automation continues to cement itself across the manufacturing industry, we will begin to see a transformation like never before; robots will not only collaborate with humans in the workplace, but they will help to revolutionize the job roles and skillsets that humans can adapt.”

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray Construction.