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ASCM Insights

Robots Safeguard and Bolster Supply Chain Workforces

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Supply chain professionals often ponder how robots can complement and even enhance our industry. We explore their ability to help prevent workplace injuries and meaningfully advance automation. We employ them to alleviate holiday shipping logjams. We even use them to streamline back-office tasks, such as data entry and sending invoices. 

“Robots that can lift, move and pack products are a vital part of supply chains,” writes ASCM Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Rennie in a new Insights blog post. “Better yet, investments in robotics and automation are proven to keep employees safer and more mentally engaged, increase productivity, and attract new recruits to supply chain.”  

Indeed, robots are easing some of the employment strain on organizations today. That’s because every new employee, human or a humanoid, needs someone to help them learn the job. Even the most technologically advanced robot requires a trained professional to ensure it works properly. So, it’s no surprise that careers involving training and managing robots are growing quickly — and are of particularly great interest to young professionals in the field. 

Today, most of the robots in supply chains are of the forklift or pallet jack varieties. But Will Knight, writing for Wired, predicts that trends in robotics are shifting, as more businesses look to humanoid (specifically, legged) robots for manufacturing and warehousing tasks. Wheels and conveyor belts on a robot are extremely useful, but there are instances in which legs are better. Quoted in the Wired article is Melonee Wise, CTO of Agility Robotics, who explains, “Humanoid robots can more easily navigate stairs, ramps and unsteady ground; squeeze into tight spaces; and bend down or reach up as they work.” 

Agility is taking a “physics-first approach” to locomotion instead of copying the mechanics of human limbs. As a result, its robot legs look more inspired by an ostrich than a human. This kind of robotics technology — as well as others, such as advanced computer vision and machine learning — are finally catching up with the designs and dreams long held by engineers. The price is right, too. Brett Adcock, CEO of Figure AI, tells Wired that it should be possible to build humanoids at the same cost of making a car, providing there’s enough demand to ramp up production. 

Side-by-side 

Curious to learn how advancements in robotics can improve your own networks? On June 6, ASCM presents a webinar about human-machine collaboration in supply chain. Investigate the blending of people and tech, emerging artificial intelligence tools, related risk management considerations, and more. Registration is only open to ASCM members, another great perk of being part of our global community.  

If you’re not yet a member, sign up now and start enjoying the benefits right away. Membership is just $10/month or $99/year. You’ll not only enjoy unlimited access to webinars, but also articles like Rennie’s, which are published weekly in our Insights blog. Plus, tap into the largest network of supply chain professionals in the world to guide and enhance your lifelong professional journey. I hope you’ll join us today. 

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 ascm.org.

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