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Can Mobile Robots Revolutionize Operational Efficiency in Logistics?

The logistics industry is constantly being transformed, with new technologies that are helping to identify bottlenecks, and enhance operational efficiency. Automation and robotics have been central to the supply chain operations revolution, largely through investment and improvements in mobile robots. The mobile robotics market, valued at $16.5 billion in 2022, is projected to reach $130.9 billion by 2032.

But despite increased adoption, mobile robots are not sufficiently optimized to keep pace with a rapidly evolving logistics industry. Held back in part by its steep price tag, lengthy charging downtime and the valuable space charging stations take up, standard mobile robots are increasingly unsustainable.

Complex Inefficiencies

For years, the logistics industry was reliant on manual labor for its operations – a practice resulting in downsides such as human errors, fatigue, safety issues and, in recent years, spiking labor shortages.

In an effort to mitigate this challenge, automation processes have been adopted to maintain efficiency and keep up with demand. Automating routine tasks such as inventory management, order processing and scheduling has allowed companies to ensure that their operations are not impacted by the varying degrees of labor available, optimizing resource allocation and productivity, and enhancing efficiency throughout the supply chain.

At the heart of automation lies the promise of streamlined operations, the foundation of cost-saving initiatives. Yet as rising demand puts further strain on the logistics industry, one elusive solution remains: the 24/7 warehouse. If logistics companies cannot operate round-the-clock, they risk losing the money they invested in automation.

The Change is in Operational Efficiency

Mobile robots have brought the logistics industry closer to non-stop operational warehouses. Indeed, these robots offer efficiency by navigating floors and transporting goods throughout warehouses with precision and speed.

But as demand climbs, cracks are beginning to show. Simply put, adding robots to warehouse operations isn’t the cure-all the industry had hoped for.

Downtime and Upfront Cost

When adopting mobile robots, warehouse operators face two distinct challenges: high entry prices and loss of operational revenue. Mobile robots are expensive and come with a large upfront cost.  

There’s also the need to invest in an inflated fleet to mitigate charging downtime. In other words, because most mobile robots charge while stationary, warehouses must either halt operations while a fleet recharges or invest in additional robots – an inflated fleet – so they always have robots on the floor even while some are charging.

Battery Reliance

Robotic fleets are dependent on battery power which requires investment for charging, replacing, and recycling (or disposing of) batteries – not to mention the dangers of overheating or combustion.

Lithium batteries, found in most mobile robots, must be stored in temperate conditions as they are known for their sensitivity to extreme heat and extreme cold. And even when stored and charged for optimal battery health, these batteries still only have a lifespan of 2-3 years and can cost tens of thousands to replace.

The use of mobile robots has optimized workflows, minimized manual labor, and enhanced overall productivity, ultimately contributing to streamlined logistics operations. But for the logistics industry to achieve true operational efficiency, mobile robots must be able to work continuously without having to stop to charge. 

Real Estate

Warehouse rental prices are at an all time high, so every inch of square footage is valuable. Unfortunately, standard mobile robots require large charging stations – infrastructure that takes up warehouses’ precious space, limiting room for more inventory and ultimately harming potential revenue.

Recharging Our Approach

Amid workforce shortages and high labor costs, the need for automation in the logistics industry has never been clearer. Automating critical tasks allows logistics companies to mitigate the impact of these setbacks, ensuring continuity and resilience in the face of unforeseen challenges as well as enhancing workforce productivity and safety. Mobile robots, once optimized, could be the saving grace of the industry.

But the challenges above present the need for a significant shift in how robotic automation is deployed in order to achieve operational efficiency and meet the growing demands of modern supply chains. To achieve long-term success, warehouses must effectively manage 24/7 fleets to ensure they provide scalability and meet evolving business needs.

The use of robots in our everyday lives is no longer science fiction. Now, it’s time to prepare them for the future.