Damaged supply chains can be rescued by drones, automation

Artificial intelligence and the use of automation would alleviate pressures on struggling supply chain businesses, attendees heard last week at a major Melbourne event.

Distribution centres (DC) in a post-COVID society needed greater agility, resilience and flexibility, factors that were all available through automated processes according to Pas Tomasiello, Dematic Senior Regional Director.

Speaking at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre last week as part of MEGATrans, Tomasiello noted that Dematic, as mounting uncertainty across the market became an increasing concern, had completely changed its operations throughout several of its DCs — it has ten in total.

“It used to be just the picking system, now we’re introducing automation into the way that product arrives into the facility,” he said.

“This includes how the product is received, sorted, stored on pallets, retrieved from pallets, how it’s been decanted down into individual cases of units and then how we pick mixed cases and units to fulfil an order,” said Tomasiello.

Tomasiello, who is a vocal advocate of future proofing supply chain businesses through technology, was addressing a panel on ‘Improving the Supply Chain to Deliver Solutions.’

Dematic, which invests in research and development, engineering centres, manufacturing facilities, and service centres across more than 35 countries, has subsequently introduced more automation into its local DCs.

Part of this evolution has been contingent on the company accepting the possibility of drones playing a bigger part in the future.

“I personally believe that they’re going to replace the task of inspection that humans currently do, and one of their biggest applications would probably be surveys and rack inspections,” said Tomasiello.

“It’s fast and it’s safer, and they could even be used for stock taking, and I don’t see any reason why a drone could not only count pallets but count products on a pallet.

“Rather than putting a guy on a scissor lift and sending them up to 10-metre-high racking to inspect a beam, you could send a drone up there.”

In recent years drones have seen sharp uptake as a solution used for intralogistics in which their role has seen greater acceptance through the vital transportation of parts from warehouses to workshops in factories.

Tomasiello said that by introducing automation and artificial intelligence into the workforce, companies can prevent similar effects of COVID from reoccurring.

“You might have a distribution centre running with 50 people, and if something like COVID happens, you might need to run a second shift all of a sudden,” he said.

“Once upon a time it was easy to go and get another 50 people and run a second shift, but it’s not that easy anymore,” explained Tomasiello.

“By introducing automation, you can have ten people running the distribution centre with the automation.”

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