There is a large demand for the development and integration of robot-systems within logistics with the aim being to make the processes of logistics more efficient and the work easier, especially in the receipt and issue of products. Businesses are aware of the possibilities of modern technology and are willing to invest, but only if the market has the right solutions available to them.
This is the conclusion reached as a result of the "RoboScan'07" study, conducted by the Bremer Institut für Produktion und Logistik (BIBA) at the University of Bremen in cooperation with the publishing house Springer-VDI-Verlag. This report is available (ISBN 978-3-935065-31-3, to order at www.robotik-logistik.de).
The study deals with the developments, potentials and future roles of "Robotic-Logistics" with the term "Robotic-Logistics" used by the BIBA scientists to describe the field of action responsible for the optimization of internal material flow in industrial robot-technology. The study concentrates on service and intra-logistics and is divided into the four areas: automation, robotics in logistics, the receipt of goods and the future of Robotic-Logistics. From April to June 2007 the scientists in Bremen questioned four target groups regarding this topic including customers and logisticians, suppliers and advisors, research institutions and other market-participants, for example media experts.
Over the internet-portal www.robotik-logistik.de the logistic experts answered questions regarding possible cost reductions and innovation-potentials when implementing robot-systems, the arguments for its use and questions regarding the need for action, and as a result the needs of investment for the next five years. The study has shown the corresponding current situation and gives valuable information on current trends. Already in the middle term and combined with other technologies the robot-technology will play an essential role in logistics whilst making a crucial contribution to the human development of strongly ergonomic jobs and increasing the efficiency of logistical processes.
Although more businesses would like to implement robot systems, only 41 percent of the questioned logisticians are currently using them; about 60 percent are planning to do so in the future and 58 percent of the participants see a medium to high need for investment in new robot-solutions. So, the market appears to hold a great potential but doesn't currently meet it's demands. The study also gives information about the types of demand. For example the demand for a complete automation is rather low; only a quarter of the questioned participants of this market lean toward this solution as part solutions, that make the combination of different information and handling-technologies possible, are more popular. With the increase in the outsourcing of logistic performances there is also a rising demand for more flexibility; here, the challenge lies in research and development and there is a great willingness to invest in this field.
Besides collecting information about the more human and more economic aspects of robots, the researchers also look for indications for the future development and organization of their work. They want to conduct their research in an application-oriented fashion and according to demands. The study shows that today's businesses are less concerned with innovation and technology-leadership; "This will change in the next years, because the meaning of the robot-technology is increasing", says Professor Dr. Eng. Bernd Scholz-Reiter, managing director and head of BIBA. Already one third of the market-participants share his opinion; they assume there will be a growing status of Robotic-Logistics within their industry.
Also the technology discussion in this field is advancing, says Dr. Scholz-Reiter. "The study proves that the knowledge of the potential for Robotic-Logistics is already quite widespread." After all, two thirds of the interviewees are already aware of its existence. Dr. Scholz-Reiter identifies a request for action in the results of the study. "It is our task to create the basis for future market success. Research must test the possibilities of this technology and must think outside of the usual boundaries, considering the impossible."
The communication of innovations - rather uncommon in engineering but BIBA relies on it
According to Dr. Scholz-Reiter the optimization of the flow of information is one of the means of success; indeed it is the reason why the BIBA institute conducted the study. Usually engineers solve technical problems and search for new solutions and possibilities, the development of market-studies is not usually part of their task but economist Nicole Pfefferman, responsible for the innovation communication of some of BIBA's projects, says "for our work we must look at different perspectives - besides the engineering point of view we should consider the economical point of view as well". In addition to the study, Ms. Pfeffermann also developed an internet-platform about this topic and is part of the competence team "Robotic-Logistics" led by Dr.-Eng. Wolfgang Echelmeyer.
"The analysis has given us an overview of the demands and requests of businesses and the possibilities of the new market-segment 'Robotic-Logistics'", says Ms. Pfeffermann. The BIBA institute requires this data for its work - and for the communication of their research. "Because there wasn't an existing comparable study, we conducted one ourselves", she explains. "We can only create real innovations and new fields of research if we publicize the contents of our research, bringing new topics into the discussion, exchanging our views with economists and thinking about marketability when developing the systems."
The best example of the success of such a process is the ParcelRobot developed at BIBA. An early and active communication, a precise target group and an intensive exchange with the economists helped this development make the step out of the research-laboratory and become a much respected product on the international market, says Ms. Pfeffermann. Now motivated, the BIBA institute still counts on uncommon instruments in engineering such as market-studies. Nicole Pfeffermann respectively says "At the moment we are thinking about publishing this study as part of a series of studies in order to achieve long-time results."Prof. Dr.-Eng. Bernd Scholz-Reiter (executive director of BIBA)
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