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Automation - A Revolutionary Trend in Logistics

Posted on Wednesday, February 17th by Pallet2ship logo

The fact that we live in an era driven by technology is no surprise. However, we are yet to acknowledge the real value of innovation and the impact of various technological innovations in many of today's most productive fields. The business world in general and the logistics industry in particular, for instance, would be a good place to start. Let us consider the transportation management system (TMS) and its use for improved efficiency and cost effectiveness purposes or that of the Bluetooth technology and its application as a shipment tracking instrument. They serve as perfect examples and proof of the revolutionary and ever-increasing role of automation in this industry. In this context, let us check out a few innovative concepts that are bound to change the face of the logistics industry.

Transportation management systems (TMSs) as shipping tools

Until recently, the transportation management system (TMS) only provided a relevant shipping solution for very large shipments. However, in the context of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications becoming more and more popular, it has managed to make its way into small and medium shipping business and operations as well. Thus, at present, TMSs are mainly operated through web-based systems and the cloud rather than on site, thus providing far greater opportunities for communication. In this context, the return on investment for these systems has been increasing, providing a solution for shippers to improve their budgets and invest in their shipping endeavours.

Drones and autonomous vehicles as delivery tools

Another phenomenon that appears to provide an effective and very popular solution for participants in the logistics industry is the use of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles. Big names within the commerce industry such as Amazon have already adopted the use of drones to improve their delivery services and thus increase customer satisfaction. However, although designed to ensure incomparably shorter delivery times, they are yet to be accepted as tools of a large scale logistics technology. So far, Intel holds the record as the company that has managed to mobilise the largest number of drones for simultaneous use at one specific location.

Quite logically, the concept of using drones as artistic exponents of responsiveness and intelligence also allows for the use of autonomous vehicles for delivery purposes. In fact, such vehicles have already made their way into the logistics industry in some places like Arizona, for instance. As already mentioned, numerous big names within the commerce industry have expressed their interest in such innovative technologies, the latest additions to the list including brands like Apple, for instance.

In theory, autonomous vehicles provide an ideal solution to the driver shortage problem while also eliminating that of driver fatigue associated with the coverage of long distances for shipping purposes. Moreover, they are designed to enable fuel cost and therefore shipping cost reduction. The concept of attaching several autonomous vehicles together to create a train effect and therefore allow for increased efficiency in the event of accidents, blowouts or other similar events also serves this purpose. However, whether they can provide a solution in the long term is yet to be decided by the insurance industry, which has guaranteed the success of many of the technologies encountered in the logistics industry today, including the GPS or traction control.

Robots as loading, unloading and delivery tools

Another concept trying to make its way into the shipping industry involves the use of robots for logistical purposes, more specifically to load, unload or deliver products to customers. In fact, this concept has already made its entrance on the shipping market, robots being used to such ends by companies such as Kiva, which was later taken over by Amazon. It should be noted that Amazon still uses such robots, though they are only associated with their internal production at the present moment. However, other companies have also toyed around with this concept, using similar technology while not interfering with Kiva's patent policies. Similar robotic systems are designed to carry the shelves to the pickers or pick various products and place them in totes in their effective attempts to simplify the picking process and maximise the efficiency levels associated with it by reducing the amount of physical work required. As expected, more and more such systems are being designed and manufactured with the end goal of maximising the efficiency levels associated with the logistics industry in general, and not just the picking process.

According to all forecasts by experts in the field, the role of robotic technology within the logistics industry is bound to increase significantly in the future. These forecasts reflect a tendency among companies to design robots and have them carry out various operations in their warehouses, ensure the loading of shipments, handle tow truck freight operations, ensure the unloading of shipments upon their arrival at the distribution centres or even handle items upon their arrival at their pre-established destination.

Indeed, so far, all these automated technologies have made significant contributions to the logistics industry as we know it today. For starters, they have managed to provide potential solutions to a problem that is yet to be solved. More specifically, they have been catering for the acknowledged need to bridge small and large third party logistics providers together. However, the contribution of automation and automated technologies to the progress made in this particular area has been seconded by the Internet and the numerous innovations in that particular area.

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