Why Distribution Centers Are Jumping Into Large-scale Robotic Deployments

A summary of the DC Velocity article, “Pilot paralysis no more: DCs go all in on robots

Robot adoption in distribution centers hit an all-time high in 2021, with close to 40,000 units sold valued at over $2B. The drivers: e-commerce spikes fueled by the pandemic and continued labor shortages.

In an interview with Ben Ames of DC Velocity, Jim Lawton, Vice President and General Manager, Zebra Robotics and Automation, talks about the accelerated pace of deployments, how software-driven autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are changing order fulfillment and what buyers can expect when it comes to implementation and ROI timeframes.

Gone are the days when distribution center operators would experiment with one or two AMRs in a designated corner of the operation. These pilot programs would often go on for months before the team would acquire another piece of automation, then another, slowly building a fleet. Now, labor shortages and consumer expectations for fast, accurate and well-priced delivery of everything from apparel and electronics to groceries mean distribution center leaders have to move quickly. With innovations that make it possible to complete large-scale rollouts in a week or less, they can do so with significantly less risk and more cost-effectively.

Interview highlights

  • Why distribution centers are moving more quickly to deploy automation, including AMRs
  • The role of market forces, including competitive pressure, in the acceleration of robot adoption
  • What’s changed in technology to enable faster implementation and shorter ROI timeframes
  • How customers are engaging with robotics partners to design and deploy AMRs quickly and for maximum impact

“They (3PLs) have a lot less patience now than what I’ve seen in the past. We haven’t seen as much urgency for this before. There’s no proof of concept, no kick the tires. I don’t want to say they’re not being deliberate; they are being deliberate, but they’re being deliberately fast.”

Jim Lawton, Vice President and General Manager, Zebra Robotics Automation

Read the full article on DC Velocity here.

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