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ASCM Insights

Robots Bring Supply Chains Happier Holidays


The labor shortage isn’t going away anytime soon. And with the holiday season here, hiring is many organizations’ number-one priority. For some, the answer may rest with robots.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week on Amazon’s new Sparrow robot arm, which can almost replicate the human hand’s ability to pick up objects. Sparrow combines artificial intelligence, a variety of grippers, speed, and precision to execute one of the company’s most common jobs: picking up something and putting it somewhere else. At this point, the arm can handle about 65% of the items in a typical Amazon warehouse, but the plan is to continue improving the robots and get that number much higher. Amazon leaders hope that the automation of picking tasks will boost worker morale and reduce turnover by reassigning staff to more value-added roles and reducing repetitive motion injuries.

Another Journal article discussed how logistics companies are increasingly opting to lease robots to support their warehouse, distribution and fulfillment center operations — especially during short-term peaks. In some cases, the leased robots expand a company’s existing robot fleet; in others, they’re hired to help workers to support anticipated demand spikes. Leased robots are capable of picking and sorting, receiving and unloading, moving heavy payloads, replenishing stock shelves, and more.

In another example, DHL North America’s supply chain business is deploying approximately 2,000 leased robots from Locus Robotics at several retail-focused sites to aid with picking and order fulfillment. DHL is just one of Locus Robotics’ more than 90 corporate customers worldwide that are ordering thousands of temporary robots to help with the holiday rush. The company reports that the demand is being driven by the worker shortage, ongoing supply chain disruptions and a still-growing number of e-commerce sales.

Of course, robotics manufacturers hope companies will extend their leases beyond the holidays to boost efficiency and provide year-long support. For instance, Pitney Bowes Inc. last year deployed leased robots at an e-commerce hub to sort seasonal packages. Now, the company plans to install almost 70 Ambi Robotics systems across several e-commerce hubs around the world within the next three months. In fact, according to the International Federation of Robots, sales of service robots for the retail sector are even outpacing installations of industrial robots.

The next big thing

Creative ideas and innovations such as these are just a few of the fascinating trends emerging in the supply chain space. If you’ve discovered something new and exciting in your own supply chain, ASCM would love for you to share your expertise and lessons learned with our global community at the 2023 ASCM CONNECT Annual Conference, September 11-13, 2023, in Louisville, Ky.

We’re looking for thought leaders, industry innovators and dynamic presenters who can initiate fascinating discussions and inspire audiences during the event and beyond. Presenters receive complimentary conference registration, as well as a chance to expand their professional portfolios, receive valuable feedback, and network and collaborate with supply chain colleagues from around the world. 

The call for presentations is open through Tuesday, December 27, so be sure to submit your abstract, and I’ll look forward to seeing you at the supply chain event of the year!

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), the largest organization for supply chain and the global pacesetter of organizational transformation, talent development and supply chain innovation. During his tenure, ASCM has significantly expanded its services to corporations, individuals and communities. Its revenue has more than doubled, and the association successfully completed three mergers in response to both heightened industry awareness and the vast and ongoing global impact driven by supply chains. Previously, Eshkenazi was the managing director of the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. He may be contacted through

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