Report: Intelligent automation will power transportation, logistics

Transportation and logistics companies are slowly moving toward a “touchless network” via intelligent automation, according to a report from Deloitte, released this week. The third in a series of papers on strategic thinking about the “future movement of goods,” this edition describes how intelligent automation can “help power a new reality” of autonomous trucks and ships, automated digital fulfillment centers, and last-mile delivery drones and droids, according to the authors.

The first two reports in the series focused on developing a “connected community” for the movement of goods and how holistic decision-making can help companies “digitalize” their physical worlds. The authors argue that, together, the three pillars can help companies work toward a more advanced transportation and logistics ecosystem. But they say intelligent automation is the most challenging piece of the puzzle.

“While many organizations are advancing in connected community (49% of respondents are actively pursuing strategies related to this pillar) followed by holistic decision-making (39%), intelligent automation is taking more time to implement due to its inherent complexities (35%),” the authors wrote. 

Intelligent automation includes technologies such as warehouse robotics, warehouse drones, autonomous and semi-autonomous trucks, last-mile delivery drones, port robotics, and last-mile delivery droids, according to Deloitte. Warehouse applications are leading the way in adoption, but investment in autonomous trucks and last-mile delivery drones is increasing, as well.

Deloitte surveyed nearly 200 supply chain leaders in trucking, ocean, rail, manufacturing, and retail in early 2020 for the report.

“[D]ifferent segments are adopting autonomy at different paces: 50% of large integrated players are investing in autonomous and robotic solutions, but this number drops to 32% for last-mile providers,” the authors wrote. “Logistics providers are primarily investing in warehouse robotics, warehouse drones, and port robotics. Warehouse robotics is leading in adoption by those actively investing in autonomous solutions while there are far fewer last-mile delivery droids.”

For the most part, logistics is focusing on automating routine tasks, leveraging process robotics, and redesigning work to maximize human and machine strengths, the research also showed. The authors pointed to two highlights from the research: 

  • Companies are “shifting to smarter automation.” Next-generation technology can automate routine tasks, and 80% of companies leverage or plan to leverage process robotics, while another 78% use artificial intelligence (AI) or plan to use AI to drive more value from rules-based automation, they said. Companies also see a benefit in leveraging robotics to automate repetitive digital tasks: 80% of those surveyed currently or plan to do so, according to the report.
  • Companies are “reimagining the future of work.” Deloitte found that 81% of companies are redesigning work (or planning to do so) to harmonize machine and human strengths. Within the transportation ecosystem, retailers and manufacturers are 15% more likely to invest in work redesign than segments like trucking, ocean, and rail, given the greater impact of robotic and automation technologies in those industries, they said.

Although adoption and implementation are slower today, the report also shows that interest in intelligent automation is ramping up fast.

“Our survey data reveals that the intelligent automation pillar, albeit lagging in adoption currently, is attracting the most investments,” the authors wrote. “Approximately 43% of respondents are planning to implement intelligent automation capabilities over the next year, compared to 35% for connected community, and 40% for holistic decision-making.”