The Impact of Autonomous Technologies on the Warehousing & Industrial Sectors

Anuj Kapuria, Founder & CEO, The Hi - Tech Robotic Systemz The Hi-Tech Robotic Systemz is a Gurgaon-based Robotics company specializing in the areas of Self Driving Vehicles, AI, Driver Assistive Systems, Autonomous Mobile Industrial Robots, Deep Learning, Computer Vision, Embedded Systems, Machine Learning, Automotive Software, and many others.

Autonomous technologies are boosting operational efficiencies and enhancing positive outcomes for warehouses, manufacturing units and distribution centres… Just as the assembly line once revolutionised manufacturing, especially in automotive segment, autonomous technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) are poised to transform the warehousing and industrial sectors. The rapid emergence of AI is a fascinating tale in itself, but its importance in warehousing and industrial sectors needs special mention.

Worldwide, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Robotics have been transforming warehousing and other industries through the sheer speed of manufacturing, assembly and distribution of various products. The benefits include higher productivity and better outcomes due to the improved product quality, the flexibility of operations as well as turnaround and delivery times, among others.

Transformative Offerings
Since sustained quality improvements, enhanced productivity and flexibility in processes have always been a major challenge for diverse industries, autonomous technologies are triggering a paradigm change in multiple domains. The impact in warehouses and industries is worth noting.

Every domain harbours varied challenges. For instance, any manufacturing unit and its warehousing and distribution centres(DCs)would face hurdles such as poor trace ability; volatile production output; fluctuating order delivery time; seasonal vagaries and variations; space constraints; shipment accuracy issues; dependence on human resources; etc.

In all the above aspects, AI and automation offer relevant solutions. Embedded chips and sensors ensure products are always traceable. Automated manufacturing and movement mean production output is assured and delivery is done as per predetermined schedule. Moreover, seasonal vagaries and variations in demand can be addressed by flexible production lines. Alternately, production lines can adapt for products to be shipped to new markets. Space constraints can be avoided since warehouses would only store limited inventories for shorter durations due to the speedy movement of goods. With barcoding and GPS tracking, shipment accuracy can be ensured. Finally, dependence on the human workforce is
no longer mandatory as robots and automated mechanisms undertake production and distribution of goods.

Presently, companies specialising in AI-allied technologies are working 24x7 in developing systems and solutions that can alleviate specific hurdles by boosting operational and supply chain efficiencies. It may be noted that a diverse team of specialists is needed based upon the broad spectrum of problems. Therefore, such teams comprise solution architects, data and AI scientists, hardware designers and software specialists, among others, who work in tandem to comprehend and uncover the nitty-gritty of diverse industrial requirements.

The warehousing and industrial scenarios are poised to be transformed dramatically, leading to predictable, adaptive and self-optimising production systems

Once a solution is found after years of research, the story doesn’t end there. Months of testing and trials follow to check the efficacy of each solution. For example, in warehouses and DCs, FMCG products have barriers of their own. Although new SKUs (stock-keeping units) tend to be introduced frequently, inventory fluctuations arise for products directly impacted due to seasonal variations. In this scenario, it’s extremely difficult to predict or track precise SKU movement.

As a result, modular, easy-to-scale systems are needed to facilitate efficient operations in warehouses and DCs. To address this issue, mobile robots with cloud or central intelligence makes the current warehousing system eminently suitable for high-through put. By deploying such solutions, this enhances the accuracy of shipments by almost 100 percent.

Smart Solutions
There are other ways too, whereby warehouses, DCs and industrial units benefit from autonomous technologies. To laypersons, what would come to mind immediately is the role played by robots and drones in driving faster deliveries. But an upcoming trend in supply chain blocks is the self-driving or autonomous vehicle. While some elements in the deployment of self-driving vehicles seem futuristic, the fact remains that the future is already beginning to unfold.

Backed by Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Cloud Computing, driverless vehicles will become a common sight in future supply chains. Beginning with suppliers, these integrated supply chains will be connected with integrated manufacturing systems in the units of manufacturers via the IoT. After online orders have been received, specific supplies would be shifted seamlessly through self-driving trucks to the unit. Thereafter, autonomous mobile robots running inside the unit, would feed flexible production lines which, themselves, would comprise a host of autonomous mobile robots.

Once done, autonomous mobile robots place the finished products onto autonomous trucks, to be transported to the nearest smart warehouse. Inside the warehouse, consignments are then segregated before being shipped to retailers via driverless transport or even transported straight to clients if needed. All details and data of integrated supply chain dealings will be stored securely in the Cloud. In future, the data will be available for ready reference.

Significantly, autonomous technologies would be responsible for the entire transaction, with minimal human intervention only when imperative. The presence of AI in one or the other form would include Big Data analysis, self-driving vehicles shipping consignments, robots being involved in manufacturing, delivery and other tasks. Not only would robots and autonomous vehicles boost operational efficiencies, but accidents rates will plummet too because human intervention is negligible, apart from the tremendous savings on human labour costs.

The impending era of automation is being termed ‘Industry 4.0’ or ‘Smart Manufacturing’. Thanks to Big Data, IIoT, AI and Robotics, the warehousing and industrial scenarios are poised to be transformed dramatically, leading to predictable, adaptive and self-optimising production systems. Considering the active use of some autonomous technologies, the future, it seems, has already arrived.