Why your supply chain team needs a chief robotics officer

20 January 2022

Major supply chain decisions will be made by artificial intelligence and robots will be rife in warehouses within years, according to predictions by Gartner. 

Complex data systems that share different data points from across a company – known as edge technologies – will account for 25% of supply chain decisions by 2025.

Robotic process automation and augmented intelligence systems will become mainstream in businesses by 2025, while a large majority of supply chain activities will become fully autonomous after 2030, according to Gartner’s The Supply Chain 2035 Roadmap report.  

It said edge ecosystems will help companies create more even workflows, distribute data capacity and streamline real-time responses to stakeholders.

Edge computing allows virtual retail channels to connect directly with manufacturers and warehouses, and it can provide asset tracking to detect localised changes in supply chains. 

Andrew Stevens, senior director analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain Practice, said: “Historically, digital supply chain investments prioritised large-scale, centralised applications in domains such as manufacturing and logistics.

“Increasingly, supply chains are becoming more dynamic and cover larger networks.”

Consequently, digital supply chain twins, supply chain control towers, blockchain in supply chains and machine learning will be common in businesses by 2030. 

Supply chain leaders agreed in a survey that a large majority of supply chain activities will become fully autonomous sometime after 2030. 

However, this doesn’t signal the end of human involvement in supply chains completely, Gartner said. 

Survey respondents agreed ‘hyperautomation’ – which combines a series of artificial intelligence tools to automate complex business processes – provided an opportunity to free up people’s time to carry out tasks only humans are capable of performing. 

Gartner further predicted 75% of large companies will have adopted some form of robots in their warehouses by 2026.

Such robots will be able to transport pallets of goods, deliver goods to people, and select and identify individual items. 

Gartner argued recent labour shortages will accelerate the switch to automation within supply chains.

Dwight Klappich, vice president analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice, said: “Labour availability constraints, rapidly-rising labour rates and the residual impacts of Covid-19 will compel most companies to invest in cyber-physical systems, especially intralogistics smart robots.

“The good news is that there are already many flexible robotics use cases, and it is important to evaluate the best fits to an organisation’s specific needs. 

“Supply chain leaders should take full advantage of growing trends in robotics by creating an organisation led by a chief robotics officer, or equivalent role, within their organisation.”

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