The movement of products and people during the COVID-19 pandemic has been severely restricted. With the lifting of lockdowns and travel restrictions being eased, there comes with it a price. That price is the “new normal”. Social distancing measures to prevent a resurgence of the virus. We are already seeing in many parts of the world increased numbers of cases with the advent of re-starting the economy. Distribution centres in several parts of the world have already been seen to be potential flashpoints of infections.
How do warehouses and logistics companies adapt to this new normal?
How do they minimize human interaction and handling of goods?
Warehouse automation systems and robotics have been a trend in warehouse and logistics facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has simply accelerated their uptake. Above Robotics, a San Francisco based startup is just one of several companies offering services that connect autonomous robot technologies for logistics and warehouses. Their solution is a cloud-based platform that allows the shipping companies, driverless trucks and warehouses to communicate directly and handle goods with fewer human interactions in between.
The COVID-19 situation has increased awareness and interest in these technologies. However, it is predicted that even post COVID-19 these technologies will continue to accelerate. The COVID-19 situation has raised awareness of the technologies, their cost-saving benefits and the ability to make your supply chain and business more resilient for the “next pandemic”.
Increased Demand for Online Trucking Platforms
Autonomous, driverless trucks and online platforms for “logistics ride sharing” are in demand. Japanese startup Hacobu has an opportunity in the new normal to boost the use of its online platform which allows trucks to exchange information when they load and unload goods. A process that is often done using a paper system. In Japan, where labour shortages are a big issue, there was already a shift towards automated systems. This has been spurred on by the pandemic and the worldwide trend of online shopping, which is putting additional loads on warehouse and logistics companies across the globe. In Japan alone it is expected that investments in automated logistics systems will double between 2018 and 2025 to $6 billion USD.
The Post COVID-19 New Normal
Daifuku is an 83-year-old Japanese company at the top of the global materials handling supply chain. Their technologies are robust and in 2020 their share prices have taken off on the back of the COVID-19 demand for warehouse and logistics. Improved efficiencies and preparation for the next wave have forced companies to re-think their investment in smart warehouse technologies.
Mujin Inc. who manufacture industrial robot controllers have also seen a spike in demand and interest in their solutions.
It’s not only Japanese homegrown technologies. Companies from both India and China are vying for a piece of the warehouse robotics pie in Japan.
We already examined TuSimple in the USA, who are pushing out driverless truck technologies. In Japan, shortages of drivers and warehouse staff are also driving demand for driverless forklifts and autonomous warehouse carts. ZMP Inc. are one of Japans top manufacturers of this technology, and have had such a good start to 2020 they are now preparing to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
The Japanese government has also recognized the need to encourage investment in automated and advanced logistics and warehouse technologies. The Japanese Ministry of Infrastructure, Land, Transport and Tourism ave issued a policy paper on the issue.
The world of warehouse and logistics was already flirting with advanced technologies prior to COVID-19 Pandemic. Leaders such as Amazon and Alibaba had invested heavily in robotics in order to cope with the demands placed by such huge operations. However, as the world situation has changed, companies are being faced with new challenges. Lean and just in time manufacturing practices have changed to more robust methods, resilient to the new normal and social distancing measures. Japan has a unique perspective as well, given its ageing population and shortage of workers. The COVID-19 Pandemic has simply accelerated the change that was already underway.