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How COVID-19 Has Affected Robotics Integration in the Supply Chain

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While many industries took a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, robotic integrators stand to benefit as the economy reopens. Robotic integration is pushing supply chains into the future faster than ever before.

It took a virus the likes of what we haven’t seen since the Spanish Flu pandemic 100 years ago to push the future of supply lines into the present. That’s because manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and other links along the supply chain grew weaker by the coronavirus. That started a renewed interest in robotic integration to take shape.

Social distancing and the fight to flatten the curve are causing companies to consider a new way of operating. In particular, industries want to reduce workers being in contact with one another. That is possible with robotic integration.

For years, people were skeptical about robotic integration. They feared robots would take their jobs. But now companies welcome the idea with open arms. Those unpopular self-checkout lanes at retail stores are a good example. Many people now view them as keeping essential workers healthy. Robotic integration keeps people away from the front lines of the virus.

Robotic integration had been growing in popularity prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. But it took the pandemic to fast-track robotic integration into the workforce and supply chain. The Material Handling Industry says that 80 percent of companies believe a digital supply chain will be common in the next five years. A report released by the International Data Corporation on the 2020 supply chain found 73 percent of companies believe robotic integration will play more important roles in the next three years.

IoT World Today says even small companies with less money are seeing benefits of robotic integration with the “robots as a service” business model. That growing trend of robotic integration allows companies to lease robotics and subscribe to software from the cloud without spending a lot of money.

In addition to robots as a service, another option is to introduce robotic integration that works side-by-side with humans. This keeps top workers employed. It also solves the problem of trying to find good employees.

Examples of robotic integration this year exist worldwide as businesses, big and small, adapt to a new way of life:

  • The Innovator reports Iceland introduced a robotic bartender and that robots conduct swab tests for the coronavirus in Denmark.
  • England now has delivery robots for take-out food, according to The Innovator. That’s especially important for doctors and nurses. Robotic integration allows them to receive meals without human contact.
  • The New York Times found that a grocery store chain is using robotic integration for inventory. That frees up employees to sanitize, deep clean, and take temperatures of employees and guests.
  • Another grocer utilizes robotic integration to clean its floors. It’s a task for which robots never complain about and always get the job done.
  • Indeed, the use of floor cleaner robots is up 13 percent in the past few months. That’s according to a company in California that provides software for the robotic floor cleaners.
  • The Times adds that the recycling industry found that using robotic integration allows employees to get back to work. Side-by-side human sorting became too risky. Programmed robots sift through the trash and separate items for recycling.

Robotic integration companies have also been stepping up to help during the crisis. We hear about companies that modify production and supply chains to make hand sanitizer, masks, and other essential PPE. Other robotic integration companies continue to help with the exploration of COVID-19 treatments.

COVID-19’s Impact

Not all news from the robotic integration industry has been as cheery as the rise in companies interested in robotic integration.

Reduced hours of operation and hiring freezes are the biggest impacts on robotic integration companies since the coronavirus outbreak. That’s according to a recent survey by the Association for Advancing Automation, an umbrella group that includes the RIA. Those issues are a direct result of the mass layoffs and furloughs brought on by the virus shutdown.

Robotic integration companies also report delayed projects are common. Most of the research and development side of businesses is now on hold.

On the positive side, a quarter of the robotic integration companies report no changes to their number of workers. One company added its solutions are in high demand and the virus brought them new opportunities. Another says its orders are up three-fold.

For a supply chain to function like a well-oiled machine, humans do play a major role in the processing and distribution to the customer. Companies still want to avoid people losing their jobs. Nonetheless, some businesses that believed robotic integration needed to co-exist with humans are rethinking that idea. They now see the need for robotic integration to conduct tasks on their own. It’s all in the name of stopping the spread.