A new report by market intelligence firm Interact Analysis on order fulfillment robots said a “perfect storm” will drive the deployment of more than 580,000 robots over the next five years. Robots in the order fulfillment space include autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), as well as sortation and piece-picking systems.
Record low unemployment rates, as well as the shift of younger generations away from manual labor, have created a major shortage of warehouse workers, says Interact in its report. In addition, the ‘Amazon effect’ of its use of mobile robots in its own fulfillment markets, caused by its acquisition of Kiva Systems, has forced other retailers and logistics companies to adopt automation to stay competitive with Amazon. With dozens of robotics startups filling the void left by Amazon after it took Kiva off the market, technology matured to the point where AMRs are now beyond the early adopter stage, making deployment “an increasingly attractive option,” the company said.
“With Amazon deploying Kiva’s goods-to-person approach for order fulfillment, it’s easy to see why others like GreyOrange, Geek+, and Quicktron have followed in its footsteps, and arguably have seen greatest success so far,” said Ash Sharma, research director at Interact Analysis. “Despite this, AMR vendors have emerged with a variety of different approaches and sub-approaches.”
In its report, Interact breaks down the AMR space to include goods-to-person, persons-to-goods, sortation systems, and piece-picking robots, with goods-to-person commanding a large chunk of the expected deployments (about 70% at the moment). However, the company said that all approaches in the AMR space will have strong growth, and a customer’s preferred approach will depend on several variables.
“While in every industry there are always winners and losers, right now it appears that the size of the untapped opportunity and the underlying drivers of demand are more than strong enough to support all the vendor types we see today,” said Sharma. “As a result, we expect very promising growth for the majority.”
The report said that, excluding Amazon, more than 100,000 AMRs will have been deployed for order fulfillment by the end of 2020, despite fewer than 300 sites with AMRs deployed at the end of 2018. Over the next decade, Interact said the mobile robot market “is set for a major transformation” as AMRs get widely deployed in warehouses and logistics centers, following years of pilot stages. “The industry is now growing rapidly as the technology hits the mainstream driven by an acute labor shortage and e-commerce boom coupled with increasing customer demands for faster and cheaper delivery and high return rates.”
Sharma, who will be discussing the future of mobile robots in logistics at RoboBusiness 2019, said he was surprised about how few deployments had occurred by the end of 2018, compared with the number of deployments so far this year. “The pace of development has accelerated significantly over the past year,” he said. “In fact, we’re seeing a lot of end customers and third-party logistics providers bypassing the pilot stage altogether in favor of a smaller deployment. A six-month pilot is too long when trying to catch up to Amazon and others.”
In addition, with the backdrop of Industry 4.0 initiatives and consumer changes, automation and robotics continue to infiltrate manufacturing environments, Interact said. This will lead to faster and shorter design cycles, creating a strong need for manufacturing flexibility. Sharma said he has seen many manufacturers deploying AMRs and other mobile robots for their own use in materials handling and other intra-logistics use cases, moving the market beyond just the supply chain and warehouse space.
Interact’s research includes forecasts to 2023 with assumptions for all market segments, with detailed discussions of the key issues and trends impacting the mobile robot market, based on more than 40 hours of primary interviews with key industry stakeholders. For more details on the report, click here.