The future of AMRs and robotics in supply chain

by Michelle Garland

Michelle Garland is the winner of the 3PL Central Spring 2022 Supply Chain Scholarship competition. She was awarded US$2,500 from 3PL Central towards her Bachelor of Business Administration in Supply Chain Management at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

For more information on the scholarship and how to enter, click here.

Here’s her essay:

Perhaps one of the most integral parts of the supply chain process is a company’s warehousing system. The efficiency of the layout, as well as the picking preparation, can be the make or break of even the most successful company.

Michelle Garland is the winner of the Spring 2022 3PL Central Supply Chain Scholarship.

Especially in today’s economy, and with the recent outbreak of a global pandemic, the possibility of an inept facility could be fatal. The speed and accuracy of shipping products to customers is increasingly vital to a company’s survival as expectations are focused on fast and free shipping.

The global supply chain has been put to the test the last couple of years with the Covid-19 outbreak (and now more recently with multiple viral variants), so companies and distribution centers have had to find ways to innovate or risk being shut down. Now more than ever, companies have needed to focus on cost cuts, COVID safety precautions, and fast and accurate pick and pack processes.

Because of these reasons, I believe the next technological advancement will be the use of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in almost every warehouse.

For the past 20 years, the supply chain industry has seen incredible advancements in the pick and pack process. The surge of online shopping and reductions in order lead times have helped change the standard for case and pallet quantities towards single quantities and eaches (Richards, 107).

To accommodate this transition into single SKU shipments, technology needed to catch up. Instead of pickers using paper packing slips and labels, both incredibly manual operations prone to human error, the use of pick by voice, pick by scan, and pick by light increases productivity while minimizing errors.

In fact, another technological innovation for a more streamlined picking process is pick by vision. Using smart glasses, a picker can be led through the warehouse to the intended product, and have their hands completely free. A great example of this method is Picavi, an intralogistic company based in Germany.

However, despite these beneficial processes, the global pandemic proved that the supply chain industry is incredibly weak, and vulnerable to massive crises. The heavy dependence on China helped break the infrastructure of global trade, causing factories and manufacturers to shut down.

The need to isolate and quarantine depreciated access to manual labour, forcing companies to halt business. For this reason, AMRs will be the next move in a technological conscience warehouse, as they are able to operate alongside workers to pick products accurately and efficiently.

In factories and warehouses, robots have the capability to work side by side with humans in a concentrated area where social distancing and masks are required (Shih). AMRs have the capacity to completely change the supply chain industry for good. Another form of AMRs are Autonomous Mobile Manipulation Robots (AMMRs). These machines have robotic arms which allow them to pick products directly off the shelf and into boxes, which will greatly reduce the mispick errors, and could potentially save a company millions (Richards, 183).

In his article on Robotics Business Review, Greg Cronin states that “volatility, geopolitical uncertainty, and the global pandemic are contributing to unprecedented levels of business and supply-chain risk.” He believes that the use of AMRs and AMMRs will spring up as companies move away from labour and free up capital expenditures.

However, not everyone feels as hopeful about blossoming robotics in warehouses. Jeremy Bodenhamer briefly touches on the impact AMRs are currently having on the supply chain industry in his book “Adapt or Die”, and explains that these robotic systems are incredibly expensive to install. Costing up to $150,000, midsize retailers and warehouses aren’t able to justify the price, especially if the return of investment is small (pgs 137-139).

The few retailers of robotics are nearly overwhelmed with just supplying the Big 6: Amazon, Walmart, Target, UPS, FedEx, and DHL. But that’s not to say the industry could change. Automated robots and vehicles might become more easily accessible. As this technology advances, increased competition in the robotics sector will help reduce the cost of initial purchase and maintenance of AMRs and other robotic systems.

In uncertain times such as these, more and more companies are looking at cutting costs, increasing Covid-19 safety precautions, and improving the pick and pack process. AMRs can promise to do just that by reducing labour costs, increasing productivity while working safely around humans, and reducing expensive mispicks and packaging errors. While the price point may not be up to speed with the increased need of robotics, it’s only a matter of time before competition frees up AMRs and AMMRs for use in most mid-sized warehouses and distribution centres.

Works Cited

Bodenhamer, J. (2020). Adapt or Die: Your Survival Guide to Modern Warehouse Automation.
Houndstooth Press.
Cronin, G. (2021, May 4). AMR’s Optimizing (and Reinventing) Supply Chain Operations.
Robotics Business Review. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from
Richards, G. (2018). Warehouse Management: A Complete Guide to Improving Efficiency and
Minimizing Costs in the Modern Warehouse. Kogan Page.
Shih, W. (2021, November 23). Global Supply Chains in a Post-Pandemic World. Harvard
Business Review. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from
We are your pick-by-vision experts! Picavi. (2021, April 7). Retrieved November 30, 2021, from