Robotics plays a pivotal role in supporting digital transformation of intralogistics
Published on : Friday 04-08-2023
Dhritiman Chakraborty, Director Operations, Ingram Micro India Private Limited.
The logistics and warehousing sector is greatly influenced by digital transformation. What are the factors driving this change?
Digital transformation is impacting the logistics and warehousing sector to a great extent. There are several factors driving the digital transformation in this industry, including:
• Growth of e-Commerce: E-commerce has created a need for more efficient and flexible warehousing and distribution operations. Digital technologies can help improve order fulfillment, track inventory levels, and manage returns, and thereby provide a much better customer experience.
• Need for Greater Visibility: Businesses are increasingly demanding real-time visibility into their supply chains. Digital technologies can help provide this visibility by tracking shipments, monitoring inventory levels, and managing warehouse operations. This in turn helps Supply Chain gain trust from other business verticals.
• Need to Reduce Costs: Every supply chain today wants to be cost effective. Digital technologies can help reduce costs in several ways, such as by automating warehouse tasks, optimising inventory levels, and reducing the need for manual data entry.
• Need to Improve Customer Experience: Customers today want quick responses to their queries. Digital technologies can help to improve customer service by providing real-time order tracking, offering self-service options, and providing personalised recommendations.
What are the technology trends that are revolutionising modern distribution and fulfillment centres?
Modern distribution and fulfillment centres are being revolutionised by several technological trends, which are briefly discussed herein.
• The Internet of Things (IoT): IoT sensors can be used to monitor temperature and inventory levels, track the movement of goods, track assets, and identify security and safety-related issues.
• Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI can be used to optimise inventory levels, automate warehouse tasks, estimate resource requirements, and make demand forecasts.
• Robotics: A variety of warehouse tasks, including the movement of materials and machines, picking, packing, and shipping, can be automated using robots.
• Augmented Reality: Workers can receive real-time information about inventory levels, packing processes, product locations, and safety procedures thanks to augmented reality (AR).
• 5G Network: 5G is the next generation of cellular network technology, and it is expected to have a major impact on the logistics and warehousing sectors. 5G will enable faster data speeds and lower latency, which will make it possible to deploy more advanced IoT and AI applications in warehouses.
How is robotics in general, AMRs/AGVs in particular, supporting these endeavors?
Robotics, including AMRs and AGVs, plays a pivotal role in supporting the digital transformation of intralogistics. These automated robotic systems provide substantial benefits such as:
• Improved Efficiency: AMRs and AGVs streamline warehouse operations by automating labor-intensive tasks, resulting in faster and more accurate order fulfillment.
• Enhanced Safety: By taking over physically demanding and potentially hazardous tasks, robotics reduces the risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace, promoting a safer environment. This is more critical for specific industries like heavy materials, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc.
• Flexibility and Scalability: AMRs and AGVs are adaptable to changing demand patterns and can be easily reconfigured to suit evolving warehouse layouts, ensuring operational agility.
• Optimal Space Utilisation: These robotic systems optimise space utilisation within warehouses by efficiently navigating through aisles and storage areas, maximising storage capacity.
Digital transformation of Intralogistics is incomplete without corresponding change in Warehousing as well as Shipping & Distribution. How are these segments performing together?
The digital transformation of intralogistics encompasses both warehousing and shipping and distribution segments, which work in tandem to achieve optimal supply chain performance. The collaboration between these segments is characterised by:
• Data Sharing and Integration: Seamless data exchange and integration between warehousing and shipping and distribution enable synchronised operations. Real-time information on inventory, orders, and shipments facilitates improved planning, coordination, and decision-making.
• Process Optimisation: By aligning warehouse operations with shipping and distribution activities, organisations can achieve end-to-end process optimisation. This includes efficient order picking, accurate packaging, optimised load planning, and effective route optimisation for streamlined delivery.
• Collaborative Technologies: The adoption of collaborative technologies, such as cloud-based platforms and shared systems, enables cross-functional visibility and collaboration between warehousing and shipping and distribution teams, fostering synergistic operations.
What are the software platforms available that facilitate this transformation?
There are several software platforms available that can help facilitate the digital transformation of intralogistics. These platforms offer a variety of features, such as warehouse management, inventory control, and transportation management.
• Warehouse Management Systems (WMS): This is the most common and important platform, which is a must for managing the warehouse operation in the most efficient manner. These platforms streamline and optimise warehouse operations, including inventory management, order processing, and labour management. WMS provides real-time visibility, automates workflows, and enables efficient resource allocation.
• Transportation Management Systems (TMS): TMS platforms focus on optimising transportation operations, such as route planning, carrier selection, freight management, and shipment tracking. They help reduce transportation costs, improve delivery efficiency, and enhance customer service.
• Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): ERP platforms integrate various functions within the supply chain, including finance, inventory, procurement, and production. These platforms provide a unified view of business processes, enable data sharing, and support decision-making across different departments.
• Robotic Process Automation (RPA): RPA software automates repetitive and rule-based tasks, improving efficiency and accuracy while reducing manual effort. Providers like UiPath and Automation Anywhere offer RPA solutions. This can help improve productivity by automating non-value-added activities from the overall process.
• Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) platforms: AI and ML platforms, such as IBM Watson and Google Cloud AI, leverage advanced analytics to provide predictive insights, demand forecasting, and optimisation recommendations for various supply chain processes.
• Supply Chain Visibility (SCV) Platforms: These platforms offer end-to-end visibility across the supply chain, providing real-time tracking, event monitoring, and exception management. They enable proactive issue resolution, improve order visibility, and enhance collaboration with suppliers and customers.
• Advanced Analytics and Business Intelligence Tools: Leveraging data from various sources, these tools provide insights into supply chain performance, demand forecasting, and inventory optimisation. They empower organisations to make data-driven decisions, identify trends, and optimise operations.
Organisations should evaluate their specific requirements and select software platforms that align with their goals, existing infrastructure, and scalability requirements.
How is 5G impacting the logistics and warehousing scenario given the importance of connectivity in IIoT based automation?
5G is the next generation of cellular network technology, and it is expected to have a major impact on the logistics and warehousing sector. 5G will enable faster data speeds and lower latency, which will make it possible to deploy more advanced IoT and AI applications in warehouses. Key implications include:
• Enhanced Connectivity: 5G's faster and more reliable connections, coupled with lower latency, enable real-time data transmission and seamless communication between devices. This supports the high bandwidth requirements of connected devices in logistics and warehousing, facilitating efficient operations.
• IoT Enablement: 5G's improved capacity and connectivity capabilities enable a higher number of IoT devices to be deployed in logistics and warehousing. This fosters the adoption of sensors, RFID tags, and connected devices, enabling real-time monitoring, asset tracking, and predictive maintenance.
• Real-time Analytics and Decision-making: 5G empowers organisations to leverage real-time data analytics and AI-powered insights for on-the-fly decision-making. This capability is crucial in logistics and warehousing, where time-sensitive decisions optimise operations, respond to demand fluctuations, and promptly address potential bottlenecks.
• Autonomous Vehicles and Drones: 5G's low-latency connectivity facilitates the deployment of autonomous vehicles, such as AGVs and drones, in logistics and warehousing. These vehicles rely on real-time data exchange and require low-latency connections for efficient navigation, coordination, and safety.
• Remote Monitoring and Control: 5G enables remote monitoring and control of critical systems and processes in logistics and warehousing. This capability allows organisations to monitor operations, troubleshoot issues, and remotely manage equipment, ensuring continuous operation and minimising downtime.
Overall, 5G empowers organisations to attain higher levels of automation, efficiency, and agility in their intralogistics processes, fostering a competitive advantage in the ever-evolving logistics landscape.
(The views expressed in interviews are personal, not necessarily of the organisations represented)
Dhritiman Chakraborty is a Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) with over 22 years of experience in various verticals of Supply Chain. As the Director of Operations at Ingram Micro India Pvt Ltd, he is responsible for overseeing the company's logistics operations and ensuring the smooth functioning of its supply chain in India.
Dhritiman has held several leadership roles in Supply Chain with renowned companies such as Cadila Pharmaceuticals Ltd, ITC Ltd, Sigma Aldrich Chemicals and Merck Life Science. He has a keen understanding of the intricacies of Supply Chain Management and has successfully implemented various strategies that have helped companies optimise their Logistics and Warehousing Operations.
A Supply Chain alumnus of IIM, Kolkata, Dhritiman is also a Lifetime member of Leader's Excellence at Harvard Square and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. He has been a keynote speaker and panel speaker at many Supply Chain Conferences and delivered subject-driven talks in Supply Chain Institutes.
In addition to his professional credentials, Dhritiman is an accomplished Author, Trainer, and Executive Coach.