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Webinar: 2022 Robotics Trends: What’s Next for Distribution Centers
Thomas Evans, Eric Harty
November 23, 2021
As we look ahead to 2022, it’s no exaggeration to say a historic shift is underway in the distribution and fulfillment (D&F) industry — and it has everything to do with automation. Interest and investment in robotic solutions are greater than ever before.
What’s driving the surge? A recent On The Move webinar explored how major trends are impacting the industry as unprecedented e-commerce demand meets significant advances in robotic technology. In particular, we looked at how we’ll expect these factors to influence the market for automation in 2022, and how Honeywell Robotics can help you to take full advantage of these trends.
Four major factors are behind the recent upswing in demand for robotic solutions:
- Scarce labor — No surprises here, but it’s still the industry’s biggest challenge — and it’s likely to worsen in the coming year.
- Labor cost inflation — Hourly labor rates are up 10 to 15%, and turnover remains as high as one in four workers (or more). D&F operations are also paying extra for all kinds of new incentives — from pizza parties to free college tuition — to attract and retain workers.
- E-commerce demand — Online shipping isn’t slowing down, and it’s expected to top $1 trillion for the first time in history in 2022.
- E-commerce competition — There’s a growing demand for autonomous systems to help distribution centers (DCs) keep up with the world’s e-commerce giants.
Robotics Offer an Ideal Solution
Considering the trends, it’s easy to see why DCs are turning to robotics to meet these challenges. According to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), orders for industrial robots in North America increased 37% year-over-year in the third quarter of this year. Sales are on track to make 2021 the biggest year ever for robotics orders in North America — and 2022 could be even bigger. Industry experts predict that by 2024, half of all organizations in the supply management sector will invest in applications that support artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics capabilities.
Robots are a practical and cost-effective solution, and not just because they’ve become advanced enough to take on a growing number of DC jobs. Robotic solutions are able to provide automation on-demand, and the system can scale quickly and easily — up or down — in response to peak buying seasons or sudden shifts in consumer demand. Most can be implemented in as little as a few weeks, or even less.
Another recent trend is toward robotics as a service (RaaS), which eliminates many of the capital costs that are seen as barriers to warehouse automation.
Technology Is Enabling Big Changes
Three exciting technologies are giving robots the sensing and cognition they need to autonomously solve the complexities of operating in DCs and warehouses:
- Sophisticated machine-learning (ML) and AI are making robots smarter and faster, enabling them to thrive in dynamic DC environments.
- Computer vision is also a critical part of the equation as one of the key technologies that enables robots to operate autonomously and interact with their surroundings.
- And autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) continue to expand their footprint, freeing up scarce human workers by taking on repetitive transport jobs.
We see all these technologies playing major roles in the coming year. And the good news is they’re all available now. For example, Honeywell Robotics is bringing these trends and technologies together in real-world use cases like the smart flexible depalletizer.
Where to Learn More
If you missed the live webinar, you can still catch a recording online to learn more about the trends that will shape the automation industry in the coming year. You’ll also learn how collaboration with operations like yours could lead to breakthroughs. “2022 Robotics Trends: What’s Next for Distribution Centers?” is available on-demand.
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