Thoughts on the Impact of COVID-19 and Essential Supply Chain Automation
In the past three months, we at RightHand Robotics (RHR) have seen an increase in utilization of our piece-picking technology, especially among customers who are experiencing increased demand on their direct-to-consumer business. It is clear to everyone in the supply chain industry that piece-picking technology is an essential core solution that enables predictable and scalable order fulfillment operations, especially during times like these.
To that end, customers using our systems have provided us with supporting letters defining our robots as "essential" to their business during the current crisis. This is why we strongly believe that investment in robotic automation is likely to accelerate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are also reminded that it has only been a few short years since we first introduced robotic piece-picking to the world. Millions of picks later, the journey is not complete, but it is gratifying to go from launch to “essential” in such a short period of time, and to be able to help in some small way during these difficult times.
Since this current situation began, we have made some general observations about its impact on the supply chain industry and what it could mean for robotic automation:
There has been a dramatic increase in online shopping, especially for essential items such as groceries, which has driven the demand for robust fulfillment
Most e-commerce sites are gearing up to handle higher traffic; any retailers who haven’t yet emphasized online shopping options now recognize the need to do so
Supply chain managers will be looking for ways to address residual demand to be better positioned in the future
Historic e-commerce growth rates of ~15% per year will certainly pick up
It is true that some companies may hesitate to spend capital on automation. But as we have observed, that would be a mistake because the demand for fulfillment will increase. Companies that can’t keep up with the demand will end up with disappointed and dissatisfied customers. Those that master the new realities will thrive.
Because of this demand, along with what is expected to be prolonged social distancing guidelines, robotics-as-a-service models will be accelerated to align with market requirements. As one of our customers, PALTAC, phrases it in this WIRED article, “We have to consider more automation, more use of robotics, in order for people to be spaced apart.”
At RHR, we have been working to develop a robotic piece-picking-as-a-service (PPAAS) solution and make it readily available for our customers. PPAAS would reduce the demand for upfront capital investment, and therefore help companies more efficiently automate. In this way, they can flourish in the challenging conditions of today's growing demand.
As we write this, customers are making decisions as to how and when to start investing in new piece-picking processes, given the evolving nature of the pandemic and its effects on businesses and consumer behavior. We believe that now is the time for companies to take a closer look at robotic piece-picking or, at the very least, to start thinking about and planning for it.
As life hopefully begins to normalize, we ask everyone, including at RHR, to continue supporting social distancing guidelines and best practices to help flatten the curve around the world.
Please reach out here if there is any way our robots, technology, or team can be helpful during these stressful and demanding times.