Gone are the days when a robot belonged only in a cage.

Oh, how industrial robots have changed. Gone are the days when a robot belonged only in a cage and there was little interaction with humans. Both piece-picking and autonomous mobile robots work side-by-side with warehouse and manufacturing personnel today.

And with that shift, robots bring new value to operations across the supply chain. At the upcoming NextGen Supply Chain Conference, three successive sessions will highlight the top line trends here as well as how users are benefitting from piece-picking and autonomous mobile robots.


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“Mobile robots are attacking the low hanging fruit in the supply chain right now, wasted movements,” explains John Santagate, research director at IDC and moderator of the Tuesday April 16 session on the value of robots. “Piece-picking robots are out on warehouse floors but have not made as broad inroads as mobile robots,” he continues. “The market is there, these robots are just earlier on the adoption curve.”

Overall, Santagate’s research shows that only a small percentage of warehousing and logistics facilities use robots of any kind. He notes that the majority here are mobile robots. And with an eye to the future, many of these facilities are piloting robots today.

Interestingly enough, Santagate’s data also shows that just 2% of wholesale/distribution facilities use robots now. However, a whopping 54% have active pilot projects in place. Again, mobile robots dominate.

And with robots comes value, Santagate explains. In fact, more than 70% of users noted double-digit increases in key performance indicators with robots. These gains range from increased efficiency and operational speed to reduced costs and waste. Worker injury incidents declined considerably too, he adds.

The conference is slated for April 16 and 17 at the Chicago Athletic Association.

Presenting companies included:



Overall, Santagate’s research shows that only a small percentage of warehousing and logistics facilities use robots of any kind. He notes that the majority here are mobile robots. And with an eye to the future, many of these facilities are piloting robots today.
Interestingly enough, Santagate’s data also shows that just 2% of wholesale/distribution facilities use robots now.

However, a whopping 54% have active pilot projects in place. Again, mobile robots dominate.

And with robots comes value, Santagate explains. In fact, more than 70% of users noted double-digit increases in key performance indicators with robots. These gains range from increased efficiency and operational speed to reduced costs and waste. Worker injury incidents declined considerably too, he adds.

Following the top-line overview, the afternoon session will include a half-hour-long discussion of trends in piece-picking robots. Panelists include:

They will discuss the state of the technology and key applications of piece-picking robots. The focus here, explains Santagate, is often task replacement and faster picking speeds. However, it is worth noting that humans are often still part of the solution but in a much-reduced capacity than without the robot. In other words, the robot/human interface is often collaborative.

Next up will be a similar session focused on mobile robots. Panelists include:

As Santagate explains, they will be focused on trends and applications in the autonomous movement of goods ranging from bulk to components and finished assemblies. The idea is to replace material movement related tasks with autonomous navigation of the payloads. He notes that safe autonomous mobility is key.

Immediately following this panel will be a presentation on the use of piece-picking robots at Rochester Drug Cooperative.

Gary Forger is special projects editor for Supply Chain Management Review.