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Supply Chain News: Gartner’s Framework for Robots in Distribution and Manufacturing



Analysts ID Seven Types of Supply Chain Robots

Oct. 4, 2022


SCDigest Editorial Staff

Earlier this year, the analysts at Gartner introduced the somewhat gangly term "intralogistics smart robots," (ISRs), which the firm now uses to group robots that operate within the four walls of a distribution center or factory, excluding autonomous trucks on highways and other types of external robots.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

A Gartner survey this year found that 66% of supply chain organizations say that labor availability constraints are the primary driver behind their investments in robotics

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We’re not sure that term is going to catch on, but we'll run with it for a while and see where it goes.

Gartner adds that ISRs can be mobile or stationary, operating autonomously or collaboratively with humans or other robots.”

In a research note in April of this year, well-known analyst Dwight Klappich wrote that “Gartner has observed significant and growing interest in flexible automation and adoption of mobile and intelligent robots for use in warehouse, distribution center and manufacturing environments.”

Klappich, in fact, predicted that “By 2026, 75% of large enterprises in product-centric businesses will have adopted some form of intralogistics smart robots in their warehouse operations.”

Then at the Gartner Supply Chain Symposium in June, Klappich categorized these robots into seven types, as follows:

Augmented manual picking robots: Machines such as robotic pallet jacks that follow case pickers around, so they don't have to get on and off the trucks. The robots then take the completed picked pallet off to stretch wrapping or staging.

Collaborative picking robots: The category probably gaining the most press, these are robots that come to piece pickers who just have to travel a little to add picks to the mobile robot, which then moves on to the next picker near a SKU needed for orders on the mobile robot, etc. When orders are complete, the robots take them to packing.

Transport robots: Machines that simply move goods from point A to point B. Think robotic automated guided vehicles or AGVs for moving pallets, others versions to move cartons, etc. Robotic "tuggers" also fall into this category.

Goods-to person robots: Invented really by Kiva Systems, acquired by Amazon in 2012, these robots bring shelves of goods to stationary pickers, who select SKUs for cartons or totes at each of these stations that are on another structure that is then taken away by robot when all the orders on it are complete. New inventory shelves for picking continuously arrive at the stations.

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Robotic piece picking robots: Generally some type of robotic arm that can grasp or use a vacuum device to select items and then generally drop them in cartons or totes. Advances in this category are happening very fast, Klappich said.

Engineered robotic systems: In general, these are grid like structures that allow very dense storage of inventory, with robots that grab totes and deliver them to picking stations just outside the grid structure.

Sortation robots: An alternative to traditional conveyor-based sortation, more specifically tilt tray sorters, these systems move across a structure, and after pickers put SKUs in the little robot's tray, it delivers the pick to a shipping carton or tote, tilts to slide the product in, and moves on via the control system for another pick.

There is strong interest in these types of robots for sure, driven by on-going labor shortages as well as cost reduction. In fact, a Gartner survey this year found that 66% of supply chain organizations say that labor availability constraints are the primary driver behind their investments in robotics - more than the percent citing cost reduction.


Do you have any thoughts on Gartner's robot framework? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below (email) or in the Feedback section.




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