Amazon, the once-bookseller turned e-commerce giant, is known for its efficiency. In fact, some could argue that Amazon revolutionized online buying through its warehousing and logistics efficiency. After all, before Amazon, what online sellers offered two-day shipping or even, in some cases, same-day delivery?
Amazon Remains the Leader in Online Retail
Although Jeff Bezos no longer heads the king of digital retail, Amazon remains the alpha dog in online shopping. To protect its title, the company has been busy behind the scenes improving its operations further with the latest robotic advancements.
In this blog post, we’re going to cover some recent Amazon robot efficiency improvements and also look ahead to see where warehouse managers should focus their attention when it comes to the latest robotic technologies. By the end, you should have a better sense of where your operations stand and a few ideas about your next steps regarding warehouse efficiency improvement.
Starting From the Beginning
Warehouse robots are hardly a new concept. Logistics managers have employed machinery with robotic arms to perform repetitive tasks and handle individual products for many years; however, the introduction of technologies like computer vision and artificial intelligence has greatly increased the power of robotic system integrations.
Computer vision is a type of machine learning technology that allows robots to “see” the items they encounter. AI, although not self-aware, also relies on pattern recognition to make decisions in warehouses based on changing circumstances.
These are relatively new robotics technology innovations, and Amazon robotics engineers use them to fulfill customer orders faster and more accurately. As AI seems to be improving daily, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that warehouse robotics systems in the not-too-distant future will lean heavily on these technologies.
The Role of Robotics in Amazon Fulfillment Centers
Traditionally, Amazon fulfillment centers have been tasked with preparing customer orders for shipping. Most of this work has been done by human workers who have been tasked with picking items and placing them in the correct packaging.
For the most part, this system has allowed fulfillment centers across the country to operate efficiently, and although the work can be monotonous, how Amazon has its warehouse system set up has allowed online shoppers across the United States to almost always have access to fast shipping options.
Lately, however, Amazon has been introducing more robots under its own Amazon Robotics brand, formerly known as Kiva Systems. Amazon purchased robot maker Kiva Systems in 2012, and since then, Amazon has placed a strong emphasis on the research and development of warehouse robotics.
Proteus, Sparrow, and Cardinal, Oh My!
The company’s latest mobile robot, Proteus, is a small autonomous machine that can safely navigate warehouse floors on its own and lift pallets and other heavy items to assist employees. Sparrow, another of Amazon’s robotic creations, is a mechanical arm that can lift and sort individual items into buckets and bins for further processing.
Amazon has also put its Cardinal mechanical arm to use for sorting and moving packages. Cardinal uses a series of suction cups on the end of a robotic arm to pick up and transport packages around workspaces.
Robotics Revolution Spurred on by Pandemic Pressure
The introduction of all three of these machines demonstrates that Amazon robot efficiency is top-of-mind at the company, particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing logistics nightmare that followed.
According to the New York Times, Amazon saw profits increase by 220% during the pandemic, but this increase didn’t come without its fair set of challenges. Although not all of this revenue came from Amazon’s online sales directly, the rise in online shopping during the pandemic saw a 44% increase in items sold. This meant that Amazon had to closely examine how efficiently it could not just process orders on the back end but also fulfill orders out the door.
Work had already begun at Amazon Robotics to innovate and push forward Amazon robot efficiency, but Covid-19 hastened the company’s plans. According to TechCrunch, the pandemic was a golden opportunity for the development and launch of Amazon’s Proteus and Cardinal systems. Amazon will likely continue to innovate in the robotics space as more and more shoppers are looking for online deals amid inflation concerns and recession fears in 2023.
What About Human Employees?
Humans still work alongside Amazon’s robot innovations. Whether or not Amazon has a long-term plan to displace human workers with robotics is unknown, but for now and the foreseeable future, human employees are still needed to supervise warehouse and logistics robots.
There will also always be a need for repair technicians for warehouse robots, and software engineer professionals will be necessary for the long term as changes, upgrades, and new inventions in robotics will require software experts.
What Do Amazon’s Robots Mean for Warehouse Managers?
Although your warehouse operations may not rise to the level of a company the size of Amazon, it would still be wise to pay attention to developments in Amazon’s robotics integration plan. Changes in one sector of the logistics industry typically ripple outward from the big players to everyone else, and Amazon is about as big as they come.
While watching for Amazon’s next move, warehouse managers are encouraged to consider integrating robotics into their operations, even if slowly. A complete digital transformation isn’t necessary to take advantage of newer robotics technologies, and there will always need to be an adjustment period for training and learning. Despite this, getting on board the robotics wave now by slowly introducing robots in your warehouse can set the stage for success in the future.
Like any innovation in the warehousing industry, it also pays to do your research before making a large and impactful investment. Even small decisions like choosing kiln-dried heat-treated lumber pallets over plastic pallets can affect your company’s bottom line, so imagine how much it may cost to make the wrong choice in warehouse robotics integration! The good news is that you can look to companies like Amazon to see which way the wind blows and rely on warehousing and logistics partners like Pallet Market Inc for guidance.
Contact Pallet Market Inc. to Learn How We Can Improve Warehouse Operational Efficiency
Pallet Market Inc. is your trusted source for pallet services, including on-site pallet repairs, custom pallets, and pickup for broken pallets. We serve the pallet industry 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and our team can help you find solutions to improve efficiency in your warehouse operations.