Logistics automation is not a new concept. In fact, it has become a mainstream trend for warehousing, supply chain and transportation. From automated loading machines to automated guided vehicles (AGV), the rule of machines over the material handling and shipping world is unmistakable.
However, there is one more step waiting to be made: turning these human-controlled machines into independent entities that can work without supervision, give and receive commands to each other and make smart decision based on a sequence of cause-and-effect algorithms.
Artificial Intelligence: The Most Recent Addition to Logistics Automation
What we described above is called artificial intelligence. The team of packaging specialists at Logistic Packaging has already seen some examples of new technologies in action at various specialized events and fairs.
And the first steps in this yet unknown field are promising. Smart and independent machines can be the answer to the continuous challenges that companies worldwide must face:
- Optimizing logistics costs;
- Delivering products to customers faster;
- Making better use of storage space;
- Employing workforce in roles where they can actually add value to the company.
Logistics automation meant the end of manual labor. In replacing humans with robots, organizations worldwide managed to reduce losses and work related accidents. But employees still have to supervise, program and re-program these machines according to the flow of activities in the warehouse or merchandise loading/unloading bay.
How Does Artificial Intelligence Work?
Before we share some potential use cases of artificial intelligence (AI) in logistics automation, let’s take a look of how it works. An AI entity is a computer that is programmed to learn. Machine learning is the term for this ability and it means that the computer does not need human input to acquire new data and information and understand how to integrate and process them.
Besides machine learning, AI needs computer vision – cameras attached to it allowing it to visualize the real world around them. This allows the AI entity to move independently, assess the ideal route and avoid collisions with various objects.
Smart Robots in the Warehouse: What Can They Really Do?
1. Implement FIFO Rules with Maximum Accuracy
One of the problems partially solved by logistics automation was that of obsolete inventory items, the result of improper FIFO implementation. When smart labeling and shelving solutions became available, there was a significant drop in losses caused by having products left on the shelf beyond their expiration date.
However, the process is still (literally) in the hands of employees – and humans are bound to commit errors. Once the entire FIFO process is fully automated, with smart robots reading labels and picking products to fulfill orders, these errors will be fully eliminated.
2. Increased Efficiency in Warehouse Vehicles Operation
The modern warehouse is teeming with movement: tow trucks pull carts filled with containers, forklifts handle palletized goods. And most of these machines are operated by humans. Even AGVs need to be programmed and monitored by a human being.
What happens when these machines are equipped with artificial intelligence? They will become fully independent. They will be able to calculate their routes taking into account foot traffic and other vehicles. A complete end-to-end route for each vehicle will take less time. There will be fewer accidents. This is the ultimate dream of logistic automation: 100% efficiency, 0% accidents and losses.
3. Faster and More Accurate Order Picking
As we stated, computer vision helps AI entities make sense of and navigate in the environment. But it can also allow them to discriminate between objects of different sizes, colors or with specific labels and bar codes. A company in Finland has already developed a smart robot which is capable of picking recyclable parts from a steady flow of materials on a conveyor belt.
This first step is very encouraging for the future of order picking, as well as courier and postal services. Once AI-powered logistic equipment becomes widely available, the global supply chain will experience increased efficiency, faster delivery and increased profitability.
4. Deeper Insights into Big Data
Logistic automation paired with artificial intelligence will bring forth one significant benefit: improved data collection and processing. The future of any business seems firmly grounded in the ability to collect and interpret big data. Once smart robots start working on their own, they will also transmit data in real time, with maximum accuracy, to powerful central computers.
Once the data is properly categorized, crunched and interpreted, logistics managers and company CEOs will have access to valuable insights, allowing them to understand and predict customer behavior, market trends and other critical aspects of the business.