Autonomous tech set to accelerate takeover of supply chains

Out of stock items? A robot will call that in.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Will the supply chain hold? As concerns around COVID-19continue to escalate, shoppers are stockpiling essentials in preparation for a potential quarantine. 

From water and canned foods to disinfectants and hand sanitizer, which spiked 1,400% in sales from December to January, items are flying off the shelves and becoming scarce across both physical and online retailers. As stores are working around the clock to restock shelves, suppliers are frenzied trying to increase production and optimize distribution in the wake of demand surges. Disruptions are expected to worsen in the coming weeks

While we're already seeing technology on the front lines of COVID-19, autonomous tech will begin to play an even greater role in maintaining the continuity of supply chains. Robots like Covariant are driving massive improvements in picking efficiency in warehouses around the world, and systems like Outrider are automating shipping yard operations, with the potential to accelerate the deployment of tens of thousands of freight haulers, delivering products more quickly to retailers. 
On the retail level, a robot called Tally audits entire store inventories two to three times a day, delivering real-time insights to store teams about shelf-health, enhancing customers' in-store experiences and arming retailers, CPGs and brands with highly accurate, timely inventory data needed for smarter, more efficient supply chains.

How can shelf-scanning robots from companies like Simbe and competitor Bossa Nova help ease the retail crunch? As with so many technology companies, the real value lies not in the hardware but the data. 

The data these robots collect while roving aisles at retail locations, combined with powerful analysis, is meant to increase efficiency by solving for the $1.75 trillion "ghost economy," defined by out of stocks, inaccurate price execution, and lack of product location optimization industry-wide. With up-to-date inventory information, managers using robots like Simbe's flagship Tally robot can enact faster operational decisions at the store level and more nimble inventory management. The problem of poor stock management is so pervasive that inventory mishaps account for more lost revenue than theft

And in the age of Covid-19, when toilet paper is sure to fly off the shelf but so are oft-ignored SKUs like dried beans and powdered milk, having 360-degree visibility of inventory can help stores keep critical items in stock while avoiding critical shortages that lead to customer tension.

Can robots solve inevitable hiccups in a disrupted and severely taxed supply chain? No, of course not. But they can get us some of the ways there, and in the case of shelf scanning robots, they can do it while keeping personnel focused on helping customers, which has never been more critical.

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