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ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION IN LOGISTICS

Marketing Manager
Anastasia Shevchuk

INTRODUCTION

Logistics is one of the most competitive industries in the world, but it still relies on many manual back-office operations such as scheduling, shipment & delivery tracking, and most importantly, maintaining customer satisfaction.

All these processes can be easily automated, however. Let's take a look at how.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the solution. RPA brings enormous benefits to the logistics industry by enabling organizations to work faster, reduce operating costs, and increase customer satisfaction.

Let's dive into the world of RPA and see how it can help increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, and transform logistics into a technologically advanced industry.

WHAT IS ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION (RPA)?

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

Let's take a look at the types of robots that already exist.

Robot carts

Sorting robots can find items based on their exact identification. This can be done as long as there is a digital database of three-dimensional images of all the objects that the robot is tasked to identify.

For example, at a warehouse in Huzhou, the online retail giant Alibaba uses robots to sort goods. They are controlled via Wi-Fi and can turn 360 degrees and avoid obstacles in their way thanks to built-in sensors. The robots even go to a charging station automatically when their battery level is low and charge themselves before working for several more hours.

Sorting robots

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

For instance, the fashion labels Zara and Bonobos Official have already purchased robot carts in order to increase employee productivity.

Drones

Drones help to quickly take inventory of warehouse stock in hard-to-reach areas.

A real life example of this in action was when the German company DHL conducted experimental cargo transportation with 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 by people bringing their parcels to the automated DHL mail station "Parcelcopter SkyPort". Over the course of the research it was found that the delivery of goods from the base station to the mountain plateau took only 8 minutes, while the car ride on the mountain road took 30 minutes. As a result, 130 packages were delivered faster and more efficiently.

Palletizer robots

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

USE CASES OF ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION IN LOGISTICS

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

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

Let's analyze them now.

Supply and demand planning

The efficiency of a supply chain depends on the ability of managers and analysts to forecast inventory requirements. Supply and demand planning traditionally involves examining complex records and data sets, such as historical sales data, market indicators, and custom orders. It's also important to monitor and organize 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 via automation by gathering and processing information, preparing data for manual analysis, and sharing 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 an excellent choice for carrying out invoice processing and credit collection. The regular follow-ups and multiple systems in the process can slow down these processes, but RPA can integrate multiple systems to optimize them. 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 shipments and vehicles. Software robots enable the monitoring of shipment statuses for both the logistics company and its customers via tracking synchronization and the extraction of shipment details.

Communication

Effective communication is one of the most important keys to success. Higher executives, employees, assistants, and end customers must all be able to receive details about the products whenever required. The transportation chain involves multiple partners so communication can become an issue, and RPA tools such as a chatbot or 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 has been processed, shipped, or delayed.
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BENEFITS OF RPA IN LOGISTICS

Time effectiveness

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

Reduction of mistakes

Robots don't make mistakes, which is excellent news for anyone in business. People get excited, forget stuff, or are just plain lazy, which is 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, check out 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, so it´s no wonder employees are starting to worry about their jobs, particularly those involved in repetitive tasks such as data entry, delivery monitoring, etc. They are worried that software robots will soon replace them, however, this thinking is not accurate. Amazon has shown a great example of this limitation, as their employment rate has grown rapidly during a period where they have increased the number of robots they use from 1000 to over 45000.

Implementation

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

Maintenance

Most RPA solutions are custom-made, so it likely won't be worth investing in a system like this if you think your business might drastically change in the future. Remember that as of today robots are only suited for specific roles and responsibilities.

Outside of the domains they are designed for they have minimal practical usage.

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

SUMMARY

Summing up, robotic process automation solutions can automate a great variety of processes, including order fulfillment, picking and packing, supply and demand planning, and more. 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, so can benefit businesses hugely when implemented correctly.
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