Is robotics the way forward in logistics?

Is the gradual ‘robotization’ across many industrial sectors going to affect logistics as well? What’s the status and the forecast? As we move close to the third decade, we take stock of where this technology is headed.

In Logistics, like in many other industries, AI-enhanced machines (Artificial Intelligence) are becoming visible, removing some of the tedium and making employees more productive. But how close are the autonomous robots and are they at all viable for the supply chain industry?

The status today
The connection between robots and logistics began when they stopped being stationary and started to move around. Indeed, a French company has developed a warehouse robot that can climb warehouse racks, pick from any level and then transition to surface level to carry the order to human workers.

But these are still very early days. Currently, robotic picking involves a system that brings goods to the picker – which needs a lot of expensive specialized tracking and conveyancing.

About the pros and cons
No doubt AI systems will arrive that will work 24/7 and take no breaks, so allowing existing staff to do more varied work and accept greater capacities. They would also be less exposed to work accident risks.

These RF devices are already enhancing process automation

However logistics is a dynamic environment that requires adaptability and quick-thinking. Tasks are not constant and exactly repetitive. Moreover, the ROI numbers don’t add up, with high costs for equipment and skilled employees.

Robotics and AI in the UAE?
We don’t see robotics and automated systems in the UAE because the logistics sector is exposed to constant change and adaptation of processes and workflow.

We also don’t yet have full uniformity across all markets and therefore time volumes are relatively small. Robotics in its current state requires large and uniform volumes to justify the initial investment.

Will AI come to Gulf-based logistics specialists? The enlightened leaders in the GCC region are highly tuned towards technological advances, but local conditions need to ripen before they can embrace such changes.

What will happen in the meantime? It’s likely that we’ll see devices with AI capabilities that relieve some of the repetitive pressure on people, help them to enhance service delivery and lower operational costs.