I, Warehouse: Zebra Technologies and the Future of Warehouse Operations
For years, we have heard that automation would overtake the workforce in the future. After a year of unprecedented e-commerce, that future has arrived. Of the many companies vying for dominance in this space, Zebra Technologies seems to have had its finger to the wind and anticipated this change. Recently, they have gone all-in on Fetch Robotics, announcing that they will purchase the company outright in the near future. This decision could have a massive ripple effect on the entire logistics industry. Let’s find out why.
Initially founded in 1969 under a different name, Zebra Technologies Corporation became a globally recognized mobile computing company with a shift in focus that began in 1982. Today, Zebra Technologies specializes in warehouse hardware and accompanying intelligent software that facilitates logistical processes. For years they have partnered with Fetch Robotics to digitize warehouses, developing cloud-based solutions for warehouse work. It now seems that Zebra Technologies has valued this fruitful partnership and decided to put a ring on it. This partnership will become a merged endeavor; through it, Zebra will soon be ready to offer automation and robotics-based integrative solutions to companies that need them.
How Will It Work?
Fetch’s autonomous robots will allow Zebra to further automate the warehouses they serve. The company will work to integrate advanced automation processes and robotic helpers into warehouses and other logistical spaces. Using scanned barcodes, workers can send commands to robotic helpers, who can do menial tasks such as shuttling packed crates to a different location or fetching supplies when a worker runs low. With Zebra producing the technology and Fetch creating the robots, the two companies will provide customers with logistical solutions that are entirely machine-based.
Why Is This Important?
While there are many reasons why this announcement could send shockwaves through the logistics industry, there are three main takeaways:
1. Automation is not the future; it’s now
Automated processes were once something that industry leaders were keen to incorporate into their business. Those leaders evangelized the increased efficiency of automation to any colleagues that might hear it. Those early prophets were proved correct, as we live in a time in which automated processes are infused with advanced technology such as Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and now literal robotic assistants. The automated future is now our distinct present, with all industries making a pivot to incorporate some level of automation into their operations.
2. Peak shipping is the new normal
ECommerce reached unforeseen heights during the pandemic, creating a wave of shipped goods that could barely be processed. Today, companies like Fed-Ex and UPS are prepping their facilities for the next peak shipping season while continuing to process an elevated level of deliverables. These actions suggest that what was once our peak shipping dilemma is now our standard shipping scenario. The quickest way for companies to adjust to this new norm is to adopt innovative solutions like AI, machine learning, and robotic assistance.
3. Integrating human and robotic work has been successful
Zebra Technologies’ acquisition of Fetch Robotics should not be seen as a leap of faith for robotic integration but an indication of success. They are just one of many companies using advanced automation and robotic assistance to create a more efficient workplace. Amazon currently utilizes 200,000 robots across its facilities. ABI Research is estimating that 4 million robots will be used in 50,000 warehouses by 2025. Each new success will only further cement that the warehouse facilities that integrate robotic assistance and advanced automation in operations are not ahead of a trend but are now the standard-bearers in warehouse logistics.
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