Robotics is supply chain tech of future, says Gartner

Gartner supply chain study finds that smart warehouse robots rather than drones will be dominant automation tech in the coming years

Smart robots rather than drones will be the predominant automation tech in supply chain, a new Gartner report concludes.

Deployment of mobile robots is expected to move faster than drones because the technology is more established, says the report, Hype Cycle for Mobile Robots and Drones.

Around three-quarters of companies plan on using some type of robotic warehouse automation by 2027, says Dwight Klappich, VP of Gartner’s Supply Chain Practice.

Gartner also says machine learning will become “mainstream” over the next five years, creating greater demand both for mobile robots and drones.

Standardised automation software is also a factor driving robotics, says the report, with so-called multi-agent orchestration platforms increasing in 2023. 

Klappich adds: ”Workplace challenges are fuelling the adoption of automation within supply chains, and it’s likely there will be thousands more mobile robots working in supply chains over the next three years.

“By 2027, more than 75% of companies will have adopted some form of cyber-physical automation in their warehouse operations. 

Labour problems driving warehouse robotics

“Labour shortages and challenges retaining talent – coupled with technology advances such as machine learning and AI – will continue to drive adoption of smart robots.”

Warehouse automation goes back as far as 120 years, to the first conveyors, while automated storage and retrieval systems were first deployed in the 1950s. 

But with robotics beginning to feature more heavily than ever, many of today’s warehouses have a sci-fi vibe. 

Also, the pace of robotics adoption is helping businesses control supply chain carbon emissions more effectively.

On drones, the report says that, while increasingly in use, they are being deployed in more targeted ways, including location inspections or to ensure the delivery of critical goods, like medicines to remote areas.

For example, Walmart has the largest drone-delivery system in the US, as it seeks a competitive advantage in last-mile delivery. 

The retail giant has expanded drone deliveries to six US states, and up to 4 million households currently have food, groceries and supplies from Walmart delivered by remote-controlled drones.

But the report notes that robots are nearing what Gartner calls the “peak of inflated expectations,” whereby “early publicity produces success stories. 

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For more insights into the world of supply chain read the latest edition of Supply Chain Digital and be sure to follow us on LinkedIn & Twitter. Other magazines that may be of interest: Procurement, Manufacturing & Sustainability. Also check out our upcoming event in September: Procurement & Supply Chain LIVE London.
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