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Power Talks Ep. 9: Top Trends in Robotics and Automation

Resonant Link
June 10, 2024

In episode 9 of our Power Talks interview series, Chris Lingamfelter, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Robot Advisors, talks to host Kevin Lawton of The New Warehouse about the top robotics and automation trends, and what he’s excited about in the logistics and warehousing space. 

Lingamfelter covers the latest industrial automation, robotics, and warehouse automation technology. He also shares strategies for operations of all sizes to leverage automation to improve productivity, increase safety, and more.

This episode of the Power Talks interview series was filmed live from Resonant Link's booth at MODEX 2024. Subscribe to receive email updates when new videos are released. You'll get actionable insights from logistics and warehouse technology leaders on how to solve labor, equipment, space, and other logistics challenges.

Click play to listen to Lingamfelter’s interview or continue reading to get the interview highlights.

Two years ago, just 3% of companies surveyed as part of the Modern Materials Handling Automation Study described their fulfillment operations as highly automated. Now, that number is 11%. Companies are increasingly adopting automation to partially and fully automate workflows. And that’s why Chris Lingamfelter and the team at Robot Advisors exist: because companies want and know they need to automate their business processes, but they don’t typically know where to start and how to make sure they get the most out of their investment in automation.

Connecting the Dots

Robot Advisors focuses on three things. Firstly, if you have a warehouse, they can help you find the right robot. Secondly, if you have a robot, they can help you figure out how to find the right warehouses. They advise on go-to-market strategies, market expansion, and generally how to make sure new robotics and automation technology gets to the people who need it most, and visa versa. Through that all they focus on a third area, creating a community and brand around Robot Advisors. So, what is happening in the robotics and automation space and what can companies learn from their experience?

Robots, Robots Everywhere

The first thing to know is there is a lot going on. The number of companies offering automation technology and the types of things that can be automated have grown significantly. Robots Advisors focuses on these primary areas: inventory drones, pallet moving automated mobile robots (AMRs), picking AMRs, goods-to-person automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), and truck unloading and loading. And each area is in a different phase of adoption. Picking AMRs and AS/RS, as two examples, are more advanced, with thousands and thousands of systems deployed. Then you have things like inventory drones that are still relatively new and growing quickly. So the first thing to know for anyone looking to increase their use of automation is that there’s a wide range of maturity and demand for different robotics and automation technologies. And in fact, Robot Advisors considers any new technology that is inside the walls of a warehouse within their purview; robots are just a piece of that.

Start with High Impact and High ROI Areas

To know where to start, Lingamfelter recommends focusing on the areas with the greatest potential impact and high ROI, or return on investment, potential. This may mean looking beyond the obvious processes and avoiding getting distracted by the most exciting new technology. Lawton agrees. In one of the warehouses where he worked, his manager wanted to automate unloading containers, but they only had 25 feet of conveyor carrying those containers. Instead, focus on processes that affect multiple areas of operations, are bottlenecks for other processes, and/or significantly disrupt operations when not done or not done well.

Integrating Automation with Automation

As opposed to a new startup or technology, Lingamfelter gets most excited by the integration of multiple kinds of robots and automation in one workflow. As Lingamfelter summarizes, choosing a robot and doing one task faster isn’t valuable if it's creating a bottleneck for downstream tasks.

Instead of focusing on one individual task, ask “What’s the flow through the building?”, “What’s the future state you want to achieve?”, and “Where are the handoffs and how does that integration between them work?”. Lingamfelter did a session at MODEX with multiple warehouse operators, including Barrett Warehousing, Southern Glazer’s Wines & Spirits, and the user side of Ocado, and they talked about how they put together a workflow using multiple different kinds of robots to enable one continuous stream of operations. Lingamfelter says start there.

Humans and Robots Will Co-Exist

The human interaction with robots is another key area Lingamfelter sees. People are still skeptical about whether robotics and automation will replace their jobs and whether they’re safe, and they need help understanding how work will happen in the future. For example, how are companies helping their teams be retrained and better prepared to leverage robotics, automation, and what they can do as humans, because robotics and automation can enable greater productivity and help people do their best jobs when leveraged together.

When Lingamfelter thinks about the future of work, he looks at the adaptability and variety of tasks people can do and how quickly they can change what they’re doing or identify something else that’s needed, like at a basic level, trash that needs picking up. This is “just not something that humanoid robots are built for” says Lingamfelter. Warehouses are dynamic environments and that means people and robotics are going to be needed for, at the very least, a long time. In manufacturing, where the majority of work is highly repetitive, robotics and automation will be able to do everything. But that’s a challenge in fulfillment, distribution, and warehousing, according to Lingamfelter.

Ready For More?

To hear more from Lingamfelter, watch the full interview. You can also learn more about how to overcome common challenges with automation.

And if you missed Power Talks Episode 8 with Grayson Zulauf of Resonant Link, watch the replay. You’ll learn why logistics leaders are automating their charging to enable 24/7 production and fulfillment, safer material handling, and fully autonomous operations. You'll also hear how easy it is to integrate automated charging into your material handling, manufacturing, and fulfillment workflows by retrofitting existing trucks in mere hours.

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