The last attendees walked off the carpet of ProMat less than two weeks ago. The trends and takeaways from the shows will catapult the material handling, manufacturing and supply chain industries forward exponentially. Here are six takeaways the Kindred team saw at the shows and what they mean for the future.
1) The marketplace is rich with technologies for picking
There was a significant increase in the number of ProMat exhibitors marketing robotic and autonomous solutions, as well as all the complementary arms, grippers, cameras, motors and vacuum cups. At least half of the exhibitors were showcasing a robot of some kind. Many were propagating a build-your-own-robot-approach. It’s likely that these component manufacturers will partner to become integrators of larger, turnkey solutions.
2) Robots are in demand in many sectors
Robots and autonomous guided vehicles (AGV) are in demand across a variety of industries – not just mass-market retailers. We met people from military, shipping, and disaster recovery organizations who were interested in finding more efficient solutions for picking and sorting things. It’s always a good sign when technology is spreading into different sectors. It means robotic and autonomous solutions are well on their way to adoption and out of the “vaporware” stage.
3) Labor shortages are a global challenge
People often assume that markets known for “cheap labor” have all the employees they need. Not true. At ProMat we spoke to buyers from Germany, Japan, Dubai, who were all facing the same challenges as North American operators – labor shortages. Asian countries are losing employees to an aging workforce. Labor resources are also geographically sensitive. Due to their size, warehouses are often located in rural areas. People who live within the radius of the warehouse quickly become hired, leaving no new employees to acquire as operations grow. More proof that operations that need to scale up for growth or peak capacity seasons must start to introduce robotics and AI now.
4) Turnkey solutions are a must
Despite the number of robotic components available, most of the people we spoke to want turnkey, proven solutions that address their immediate labor and capacity shortages. They don’t want to have to train employees, maintain equipment or invest a significant amount of capital costs upfront. They seek full automated workflow solutions like the Kindred SORT picking robot that starts rolling on day one.
5) Turnkey AND tuned-in
Selecting a turnkey solution is imperative, but it’s also essential that the system is tuned in. What we heard at the show was a distaste for generic systems. Supply chain decision makers are seeking systems that have already been proven successful with their type of items – whether it be groceries, polybags, bottles or boxes. They can’t afford to run science experiments with their customers’ orders. Before implementation, they want to know the picking and sorting solution can meet the performance number for their specific item. After two years of processing picks through peak demand seasons, we’re confident Kindred SORT is tuned in for the combination of polybags and barcode scanning!
6) It’s all about ROI
With cost competition continually increasing, everyone wants to drive down the costs of fulfillment. One way is by embracing more flexible ways of paying for technology solutions, rather than taking a big capex hit right as you adopt a new system. At ProMat we heard from a lot more people who were seeking, or at least open-minded-to, subscription-based, pay-for-pick or Robots as a Service (RAAS) pricing models. Of course, there are many benefits to subscription and service models, such as eliminating long purchasing cycles. These flexible pricing models are significant drivers to increasing adoption of robotics and automation in the supply chain.
As we look at all these trends together, it’s clear that the supply chain industry is becoming more open to new and innovative approaches. In prior years the industry was focused on acquiring Management Systems, Labor Management Systems and Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems. With those investments now made, the industry will be able to capitalize on the benefits of those systems exponentially by layering on robotics, automation and new pricing models. The result is a multiplier effect that will improve efficiencies and drive growth in the future supply chain.