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ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION IN LOGISTICS

Anastasia Shevchuk
Business Development Manager

INTRODUCTION

Logistics is one of the most competitive industries in the world but it still relies on many back-office operations that are done manually such as scheduling, tracking shipments & deliveries, and most importantly keeping customers satisfied.

But these processes can be easily automated. Interested in how?

Robotic process automation is the answer to your question. RPA brings enormous benefits to the logistics industry. It enables organizations to work faster, reduce operating costs and increase customer satisfaction.

Let's dive into the world of RPA and see how it helps to increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction and transform logistics into one of the top-notch industries.

WHAT IS ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION (RPA)?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a software technology that makes it easy to build, deploy, and manage software robots that emulate human actions interacting with digital systems and software. Just like people, software robots can do things like understanding what's on a screen, navigate systems, identify and extract data, and perform a wide range of defined actions. But software robots can do it faster and more efficiently than people, without the need to get up, smoke or take a coffee break.

Let's consider what types of robots already exist.

Robot carts

Sorting robots can find an item with its exact identification. This can be done, provided that there is a digital database of three-dimensional images of all the objects that the robot manipulates.

For example, at a warehouse in Huzhou, the online retail giant Alibaba uses robots to sort goods. They are controlled via Wi-Fi, turn around 360 degrees and avoid obstacles on the way due to the built-in sensors. When the battery level is low, the robots go to the charging station, charge themselves for about 5 minutes and then work for several more hours.

Sorting robots

Robot carts can move pallets autonomously around the warehouse area. Some of them can automatically remove the necessary goods from the shelf and place them in containers or on a pallet, as well as lay them on the shelves.

For instance, Zara and Bonobos Official have already purchased such robot carts to increase employee productivity.

Drones

Drones help to quickly take inventory of warehouses with hard-to-reach shelves.
Besides, there was a real case when the German company DHL conducted experimental cargo transportation by drones, delivering packages from the German community located in the Bavarian Alps at an altitude of about 1200 meters above sea level. The delivery system was tested in real conditions, people brought their parcels to the automated DHL mail station "Parcelcopter SkyPort". In the course of the conducted research, it was found that the delivery of goods from the base station to the mountain plateau takes only 8 minutes, while the car ride on the mountain road takes 30 minutes. As a result, 130 packages were delivered.

Palletizer robots

Palletizer robots are industrial manipulators designed to automatically capture and stack goods on pallets.

APPLICATIONS OF RPA IN LOGISTICS

Robotic Process Automation offers a great variety of opportunities. It can optimize processes in the logistics industry, reduce operational costs, improve efficiency, and ensure timely deliveries.

There are some particular areas where Robotic Process Automation can significantly simplify the work of employees.

Supply and demand planning

The efficiency of a supply chain depends on the ability of managers and analysts to forecast inventory needs. Supply and demand planning traditionally involves examining complex records and data sets, such as historical sales data, market indicators, and custom orders. And you have to monitor and organize these large amounts of data from customers, vendors and internal teams.

This can be time-consuming, tedious and boring.

RPA provides a more efficient way to analyze this information through automation. It gathers and processes information, prepares data for manual analysis, and shares it with planners. Robotic process automation in logistics enables managers to efficiently develop more accurate forecasts with less time and resources.

Invoice processing and credit collections

Software robots are the right choice for carrying out invoice processing and credit collection. The regular follow-ups and multiple systems in the process can make it slower. RPA can integrate multiple systems to optimize these processes. Moreover, Robotic Process Automation can integrate with freight bill payment systems to automate complete order-to-cash processes for hundreds of large 3PL carriers.

Shipment tracking

RPA can automate a tracking system in logistics for both shipments and vehicles. Software robots enable monitoring shipment status to the logistics company and customers via tracking synchronization and extracting shipment details.

Communication

Effective communication is a key to success. Higher executives, employees, assistants, as well as the end customers, must be able to receive details about the products whenever required. Since the transportation chain involves multiple partners, communication can become an issue. RPA tools such as a chatbot or an auto-responder can solve this problem. Robotic process automation can help by automatically sending notifications through the system to let customers know when an order is processed, shipped, or delayed.
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BENEFITS OF RPA IN LOGISTICS

Time effectiveness

Automation tools undoubtedly perform tasks faster than humans. Likewise, RPA tools can execute time-consuming tasks at a faster pace, thereby helping businesses to reduce their process cycle time.

Reduction of mistakes

Robots don't make mistakes! That's good news for anyone in business. People get excited, forget stuff, or just get lazy, that's why errors occur. The same cannot be said for robots.

Increased profits

With improved accuracy, increased productivity, and reduced errors in the work process, the revenue, and profit of the organization will naturally increase.

By the way, if you want to learn more about digital transformation in logistics, read our article "The Changing Face of Logistics: What Changes to Expect in the Next Decade?"

DRAWBACKS OF RPA IN LOGISTICS

Potential job losses

Robots are fast, efficient and consistent. No wonder that employees are starting to worry about their workplaces, especially those involved in repetitive tasks such as data entry, delivery monitoring and others. Of course, start thinking that soon software robots will replace them. However, this thinking is not accurate. Amazon has shown a great example of this limitation. The employment rate has grown rapidly during a period where they have increased the number of robots from 1000 to over 45000. So, we'll see soon.

Implementation

Finally, RPA might provide you with good results, but good results require time and money to set up. You should know that almost half of all Robotic Process Automation systems fail when first rolled out, so be prepared to accept the fact that implementation might take more resources than you initially thought.

Maintenance

Most RPA solutions are custom-made. It likely won't be worth it to invest in such a system if you think that your business could drastically change in the future. Remember that robots are only suited, as of now, for specific roles and responsibilities.

Outside of those domains, they are designed for, there is minimal practical usage from them.

So, think twice before investing in robots as even minor changes can lead to significant disruptions.

SUMMARY

Summing up, robotic process automation can automate a great variety of processes, including order fulfillment, picking and packing, supply and demand planning. Automating small, repetitive tasks allows workers to focus on higher-level activities. Robots can work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, don't take lunch breaks, sick days, or holidays, and are 100% drama-free.
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