Amazon has long had small armies of robots at its massive distribution centres around the world. Small and innocuous-looking, these warehouse workhorses zip around finding items customers have ordered and dramatically speed up the order fulfilment process – because we all, of course, want our goods as fast as possible!
Now other fulfilment houses are adopting robot technology to give them an edge in the marketplace and delight their customers. Humans, as if we need reminding, are just too slow, far too error-prone and overall way too problematic. Plus, they cost a lot. Entire countries are racing ahead to develop new, larger robots for a whole range of manufacturing and fulfilment uses, building on the success of robotics employed to assemble everything from cars to remote controls.
All this is being driven by soaring demand in the e-commerce sector, which this year is projected to be worth around US$1.7 trillion worldwide. The need for speed in fulfilling orders and delivering goods is what means success for some and outright failure for others. At Delhi-headquartered global logistics firm DTDC, for instance, much of the talk is about increased automation, with more robots coming in and more people going out.
The company is currently using a robot with 25 arms that is capable of sorting up to 3,600 products per hour – a feat unmatchable in single human terms; so for the fulfilment and logistics firms, the choice is increasingly clear if they want to stay in business and succeed.
DTDC, delighted by the massive increase in productivity, is now establishing eight logistics centres around India that will be primarily run by robots. It says that with its electronic workers, it's making significant time savings that would be lost with humans doing manual tasks, and that the robots also allow the company to quickly respond to new trends and demands in an ever changing electronic marketplace.
Anticipating what those emerging trends might be gives significant advantages to companies, as they're better placed to adapt, and that, says DTDC, is another benefit of using robot technologies.
Sorry, people, you just cannot compete – but at least you'll get your online orders faster.