Use cases for Hyper Automation
Yeah you are right. RFID itself did not have its way strong enough into global distribution systems. Automated data capture has a long way to go in some of the more modern DCs of leading global players. Thus the case for IOT should be ruled out early on.
Not really. Primary concerns around RFID systems include cost factors, issues with integration, lack of substantial business case outside fraud detection and tracking. However, the case of IOT is altogether different. Imagine the intelligent bin that provides real time inventory updates with each pick. Some of the leading airlines experimented with ‘smart ULDs’ (eg., DyCoNet) way back in 2011. If used intelligently, lost baggage would be a theme of the past. Cellular transport systems replacing ASRS may not be a long call if the technological advances are leveraged the right way. However the question is the utility of such cellular transport systems involving multi-million packages in the express logistics industry. Yes that could be a long shot if they were to be used as stand alone. Imagine an optimum combination of standard sortation systems and cellular / bot based units for a typical thanksgiving peak in any major DC across US. It has a potential to reduce the peak load man power needs substantially.
While advanced human-machine interfaces (example usage of google glass for order picking) have limited real time usability in large scale ware house operations, early success was seen in leveraging swarm algorithms for bot based DC operations for order picking.
It is interesting to see how IOT changes the world of distribution.
Forward Integration Challenges in Logistics Industry
That’s a good term. What’s forward integration? Way back in good ole days, automotive manufacturers had a lot in-house. As the industry matured, platform based production systems evolved. Components were made by vendors. Then Vendors started producing sub-assemblies. As forward integration matured, somewhere in the horizon, brand remains with the OEM. In this value chain, along with other players, logistics service providers moved up the value chain. Instead of just moving goods from point A to point B, logistics players got into VAWD (value added services along with warehousing and distribution, like kitting). Another example of this is direct mailer printing at the point of consumption to avoid logistics costs and improving agility to market demand.
3D printing started as an additive manufacturing technology that accelerates rapid prototyping. This is around for over 2.5 decades. Stereo lithographic systems were the early Avatars of 3D printing technologies and the usage is fairly limited to prototyping and experimental organ printing. Selective laser sintering, FDM (Fused deposit modeling) and Digital Light processing are amongst other and more latest technologies that have evolved in this space. From Cubify Cubex to Makerbot replicators, variety of 3D printing options are available in the market.
So what’s the impact of this evolving industry on logistics? Can 3D printing substantially reduce the need for transportation? Not really, affordability and technological readiness is not there yet. However, deepest impact of this technology on logistics industry lies in how value added services are rendered today. How effectively, a logistics player is able to forward integrate. We are not talking about mass production of garments to compete with China. We are referring to high end designer wear that can be produced in the warehouse of a logistics provider which can be shipped locally. It is about advanced JIT (just in time).
It may not be feasible, practical and cost effective to 3D print items on a massive scale. However, as the technology evolves, leveraging 3D printing for critical supply chain needs in hi-end areas cannot be ruled out. Today logistics players are already engaged in assembly of computing equipment like laptops. Won’t get surprised when a day comes when the needs of forward integration demand manufacturing support from logistics players. 3D printing not just changes the game in manufacturing industry but it does hold potential growth opportunities for logistics players as well. However the logistics industry as we see it today is yet to gear up and capture opportunities in this space. The kind of competencies / skills available in the industry, network infrastructure need to under-go substantial changes.
Let me know your thoughts.
PROGRAMMING CHALLENGES IN INDUSTRIAL ROBOTS
It is estimated that there are about 1.6 million industrial robots deployed across the globe and that is a sizeable number to ignore in industrial automation. Logistics as an industry has been attempting to leverage robots for a long time and autonomous logistics (including drone based deliveries) is an interesting and large topic involving unmanned ground, aerial and surface vehicles. Usage of autonomous ground vehicles in postal industry was experimented over a decade ago. Dock management, de-vanning, vanning, Inbound inspection, sortation, put-away, transport operations, picking, packing are some of the key areas to leverage industrial robots. Cellular Transport Systems provide an edge over static conveyers for large scale sortation for both express logistics and 3PL operations. I’d try and limit this point of view to typical warehouse operations.
When it comes to warehousing operations, application of industrial robots and advanced technologies provide paradigm shift in efficiency, productivity and in minimizing errors. Leveraging 3D sensors and robotic manipulators for contour check to optimize space for vanning, in-bound material inspection and other such uses offer enormous opportunities for logistics industry.
However, there is not much progress and acceptance of common scripting or programming language in robotics space and there are several proprietary software based on the vendor like Rapid (ABB), Karel (Fanuc), AS (Kawasaki) etc., However given the high need of parallelism and event processing capabilities is a good business case for budding technopreneurs.