This Transportation & Logistics (T&L) Insights series is based on research by Levvel, who joined the Endava family in 2021. The team surveyed over 500 US-based companies who procure transportation and logistics services internally and externally to get their views on their challenges, needs, and use of digital technology solutions.
While companies often perceive technology innovation to mean things like high-end robotics, artificial intelligence, and fully autonomous vehicles, there are many elements in the supply chain that can be modernized without requiring great effort or cost, while still providing the competitive edge T&L companies are looking for. In this series, we will present current industry challenges and how digital technology can help reduce friction, enhance efficiency, and provide a better experience for businesses and their customers.
THE CURRENT STATE OF AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES
Today, vehicles with varying degrees of autonomy are common in both commercial and private transportation. Tesla, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo all have vehicles on the market that are capable of driving autonomously from one point to another under certain conditions. Yet, because of legal and security concerns, autonomous vehicle capabilities are limited to a level of autonomous capacity known as environmental detection.
This means vehicles are capable of making informed decisions on their own, such as collision detection and emergency braking, but the operator is ultimately responsible and needs to remain alert. It appears we are years away from true autonomy.
In the transportation and logistics (T&L) industry, technology is changing the way companies operate. Robots and cobots performing collaborative tasks in warehouses and distribution centers (DCs) have become mainstream. Inventory management systems (IMS), paperless workflows, and yard management systems (YMS) are key to streamlining processes.
According to Levvel’s research, approximately 60% of organizations are using some basic form of automation. Typically, this falls into one of two categories:
- Autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs): Examples are guided carts, conveyors, or vehicles that move along a predetermined track.
- Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs): These include palletizing robots, picking robots, or autonomous transportation robots.
Our survey shows that only 19% of companies are currently utilizing AMRs. But AMRs are the future, as they adapt and respond to the environment around them, making them extremely dynamic.
CHALLENGES AND BENEFITS OF AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES IN THE T&L INDUSTRY
Fully autonomous vehicles still have to overcome legislation and technology hurdles before mainstream production can begin. Despite these concerns and organizations’ inability to operate with them, expectations for the future are high. We found that most companies expect nearly 50% or more of their fleet to operate autonomously in the future.
The benefits of autonomous vehicles in the T&L industry are obvious: efficiency, increased capacity, and labor cost savings, to name just a few. Despite these, widespread adoption isn’t in the offing just yet. AMRs typically require large upfront and maintenance costs, and skilled workers trained to manage and maintain their systems are scarce.
Other challenges include:
- Space utilization: AMR systems are more suited for large-volume locations and require space to accommodate equipment.
- Redesign: Not only do processes need to be redesigned, but so do the physical layouts of warehouses and distribution centers to accommodate AMRs.
Companies that have implemented physical automation systems, like artificial-intelligence-enhanced robotics, AGVs, and AMRs, report significantly fewer challenges with some of the typical barriers found in warehouse operations, such as:
- Labor management
- Quality metrics
- Utilization rates
- Loss prevention
- Damage to items
- Storage efficiency
- Process visibility
- Travel time
- Safety hazards
Efficiency impacts the bottom line in multiple ways. Companies that fail to invest in modernizing their facilities and automating processes run the risk of falling behind their competitors.
Read our other Transportation & Logistics Insights articles to learn more about how technology can help alleviate industry challenges.