Image: iStockphoto.com/Issam Khriji

Recent advances in robotics and demand to fill warehouse jobs have led to a “tipping point” in the number of robots used to automate supply chain operations, according to a new report from Tractica, a market intelligence firm that focuses on human interaction with technology. According to the report, titled “Warehousing and Logistics Robots,” there were an estimated 40,000 robotic units shipped worldwide in 2016—but by 2021, there will be 620,000.

As a measure of global market value, Tractica also expects the robotic shipments to reach $22.4 billion by the end of 2021, up from an estimated $1.9 billion in 2016. The report, which highlights market drivers and challenges, profiles 75 “emerging industry players,” and is divided into sections based on robot type.

According to the report, “warehousing and logistics industries are looking for robotics solutions, more than ever before, to remain globally competitive,” which will “lead to widespread acceptance and presence of robots in warehouses and logistics operations.”

To allay fears about lost jobs due to automation, the report authors said they expect that the increase in robots will likely yield new jobs and opportunities for businesses. “The next 5 years will be a period of significant innovation in the space, bringing significant opportunities for established industry players and startups alike,” said Manoj Sahi, a research analyst, in the report.

The biggest drivers of the market growth, according to Sahi, will likely be “mobile robot platforms and industrial robot manipulators.” Following those, shuttle automated storage and retrieval systems and gantry robots will have the next largest impact.

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Additionally, the boom in robots in supply chain operations will likely make these processes “faster, safer, and more productive,” according to Tractica.

Factory robots are already making a big impact, with companies like Amazon and Google—known for using robots that can lift and move large pallets or shelves—competing to develop advanced warehouse robots. Ford is also experimenting with co-bots (collaborative robots) in a factory in Germany. And a small German company called Magazino has “seeing” robots with advanced computer vision, that can select items off a shelf, pick them up, and bring them into a sorting machine—which is arguably a big advantage when it comes to smaller “picking” tasks that often require a human worker. It’s also a benefit when it comes to a missing barcode or improperly placed item on a shelf.

SEE: Why a German robot company says it has an edge over Amazon and Google (TechRepublic)

Advances in machine learning, which means increased robot precision, vision, and intelligence, are likely to be a driver of this growth, since they give robots the ability to handle more complex tasks.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. A new report from Tractica, a market intelligence firm that focuses on human interaction with technology, expects a huge increase in robotic unit shipments over the next six years.
  2. According to the report, robot units will grow from 40,000 units in 2016 to 620,000 in 2021. Robotic shipments are expected to reach $22.4 billion in global market value by the end of 2021, up from an estimated $1.9 billion in 2016.
  3. Increases in supply chain robots are expected to make work safer, faster, and more productive, according to the report.

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