Logistics operations are always on the lookout for ways they can reduce turnaround times and improve efficiency in everything they do, and technology increasingly allows them to do just that. These days, that often includes the use of artificial intelligence and automation to identify and address efficiency issues before they even have the chance to really take root.

Today, many warehousing businesses are looking to technology options that will allow them to get an edge in the industry, and that often includes automation, according to a recent industry survey from the ARC Advisory Group and DC Velocity. For instance, a combined 17% of businesses say their current highest priority for tech investment include robots that work collaboratively with employees, case-picking robots and automatic sorting machines.

Indeed, 33% of respondents said they plan to invest in automatic sortation within the next year, the survey found. Moreover, autonomous technology dominated investment plans on a three-year timeline; companies favored shuttle system/robotics hybrids (49%, the largest share for any single type of warehouse tech), robotic case picking (45%), automated collaborative robotics (43%), automated zone-based robotics (38%) or robotic item-picking (36%).

AI is likely to power the next generation of automated warehouse tech.AI is likely to power the next generation of automated warehouse tech.

Added incentive
However, while it must be noted that the bulk of the survey was conducted before the novel coronavirus pandemic really took hold in America, companies aren't likely to be deterred from short- and long-term investment planning, said Steve Banker, vice president of supply chain services at ARC Advisory Group, writing about these findings for Forbes. The reason why is simple: As collaboration between humans and automated robotic systems improves, companies have less of a need to pack their warehouses with workers to meet demand.

It's not clear how long this virus is going to be a risk factor for businesses, but the odds that companies and workers alike are more cognizant of infectious disease risk going forward — for years to come — are high, Baker added. As such, automation and robotics can be a great way to ensure the risk is minimized on an ongoing basis.

Many uses for the technology
Of course, the practical application of robotics can go beyond simply picking and packing, working with warehouse employees and so on, and overseas efforts highlight that fact, according to Smart Industry. In Asia, for instance, warehousing firms have utilized robots to check workers' temperatures as they report for their daily duties, and others patrol the warehouse floor distributing hand sanitizer.

Likewise, AI and robotics used in concert are allowing more companies to operate automated forklifts, the report said. In some ways, it seems the COVID-19 pandemic has only strengthened some companies' resolve to make these investments as a means of simultaneously keeping workers safe and making operations more efficient.

Certainly, this is the kind of thing that all businesses in the industry should at least be considering. For those determined to take the leap, it may take careful planning to make sure these devices can be seamlessly integrated into your current operations.

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