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Research suggests COVID-19 will push automation up the agenda

26 March 2020

IDTechEx says worker health issues and possible industrial action brings logistics automation into focus.

Last week Amazon announced that it planned on hiring 100,000 extra workers to meet the rise in demand for online shopping created by Coronavirus-caused shutdowns and social distancing. On 19 March 2020, unions said workers were demanding that Amazon takes their lives seriously. The night before a facility in Queens, NY, had been closed for deep cleaning after an employee tested positive for the virus. There are reports that some Amazon warehouse workers in Italy and Spain have tested positive. In France, several hundred Amazon workers protested to demand better measures to protect their safety. In Italy, there have been calls for a strike.

Amazon has issued a defence of its health and safety record here.

This and similar developments once again bring into focus the motivation, and at times the imperative, to increase automation in the logistics and delivery chain, says research firm IDTechEx.

It has been examining the technological and commercial trends in this field for several years. Its report “Mobile Robots, Autonomous Vehicles, and Drones in Logistics, Warehousing, and Delivery 2020-2040” focuses on automation of movement in every step of the logistics and delivery chain ranging from a warehouse or a factory to the delivery of goods to the final customer destination.

Handling & Storage Solutions spoke to Jeff Cashman, SVP and global chief operating officer at GreyOrange to get his take.

Cashman said: “We’re all witnessing the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on our daily lives and on the economy and it’s difficult to imagine going back to business-as-usual anytime soon. COVID-19 is changing the fulfilment industry in real-time as it becomes increasingly critical to fulfil orders faster and more efficiently than ever to get critical medical supplies to those who need them most, including first-responders, hospitals and health care workers. Many companies are struggling to keep up with amplified expectations and demand as more consumers turn to ecommerce for everyday needs and essentials as “stay at home” becomes the new normal.

“Across the globe, warehouse workers, truck drivers and supply chain operations teams have joined doctors and other health care workers on the front line to meet citizens’ needs. Companies locked into rigid automation in their DCs can’t handle the shock of this extraordinary unplanned peak demand. Now more than ever we are seeing how essential scale, mobility and flexibility are in automated fulfilment systems.

“A fulfilment operating system powered by AI, machine learning and smart autonomous robots like the one GreyOrange provides equips companies with the power and intelligence to quickly ramp up order fulfilment throughput to cover unexpected demand.  They can prioritise order fulfilment at scale, both predictively and in real time, by continuously considering the criticality of demand, inventory positions, orders, promise dates, cost impacts, revenue implications, labour available, time available and fleets of robots available. For example, fulfilling scrubs without also fulfilling masks and gloves is no good. Orders from COVID-19 “hot spot” areas must be fulfilled first. Software that orchestrates how robots navigate across a distribution centre, working autonomously or alongside people, ensures the right inventory is at the right place at the right time to fulfil priority orders, even through unpredicted peaks.”

 
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