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Material handling, logistics’ll become $75bn market by 2027—-Report

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A new report by the IDTechEx Research on Mobile Robots & Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 2017-2037 which focused on all aspects of mobile robotics in material handling and logistics has revealed that by 2027, that is in nine year ahead, there will be a massive transformation in industrial material handling and related logistics capable of creating a $75bn market globally.

According to the Research Director of the group, Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, “Some emerging technologies will rise and transform the fortunes of industries, fuelling growth rates that will by far outpace recent trends, while older technologies will be faced with decay and obsolescence”. “We are at the beginning of the beginning of transformative change, and the time to plan is now.

The new report considered key technological trends like automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile vehicles (AMVs) and carts/units; mobile picking robots; last mile delivery ground robots (droids) and drones; and autonomous trucks and light delivery vans (level 4 and level 5 automation).

According to Ghaffarzadeh, “We provide technology roadmaps and 20-year market forecasts, in unit numbers and revenue, for all the technologies outlined above (11 forecast lines). We built a 20-year model because our technology roadmap suggested that these changes will take place over long timescales. We further provide investment/trend analysis and company interviews/profiles/reviews.

He said “AGVs are a mature technology that can safely transport payloads ranging from several kilograms to multiple tonnes, essentially acting as semi-rigid distributor conveyer belts covering large areas. Their navigation technology is evolving. Today multiple options are available ranging from low-cost wire or magnetic tape guidance to the increasingly popular laser guidance. All, however, follow rigid guide points and therefore require some degree of infrastructure modification and extended onsite installation. This industry is showing healthy, albeit small, grow rates”.

“This gives an illusion of security to this mature high-fragmented business where price competition is rising. The next generation of navigation technology – infrastructure-independent flexible autonomy – has the potential to shatter this illusion. This new technology, while appearing as the next natural step in navigation technology evolution, requires a complete change in the software side of the robots, opening up an opportunity for new challengers to enter and fully redraw the competitive landscape.

“Our report Mobile Robots & Drones in Material Handling & Logistics 2017-2037 provides a detailed and quantitative (revenue and unit numbers) assessment, forecasting how sales of AGVs will grow then decline in the next 20 years. In addition, it will show how autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) will rise, not just largely replacing AGVs but in time diffusing beyond the structured confines of warehouses and factories.

“Navigational autonomy will induce a colossal transfer of value from wage bills paid for human-provided driving services towards spend on autonomous industrial vehicles. This, in turn, will fuel the growth in this material handling vehicle industry (e.g. forklift), creating significant revenues over a business-as-usual scenario. This is despite our technology roadmap, which shows that hardware commoditisation will slowly devalue such driving services particularly in high-wage regions.

“Our technology roadmap in the report suggests that this change will not happen overnight, explaining why we have built 20-year forecast models where each phase of market evolution is justified. They will, however, take place much earlier than mobile autonomy in general driving because the structured and controlled environment of indoor industrial facilities lends itself better to automation.

“Indeed, our model suggests that autonomous forklifts, for example, will remain a tiny share of the global addressable market until around 2023 but will soon after enter the rapid growth phase, causing a transformation of the industry and dramatically raising adoption levels to as high as 70% by 2038.

Last mile delivery remains an expensive affair in the parcel delivery business, often representing more than half the total cost. Its importance is growing thanks to a change in the composition of total deliveries with B2C deliveries rapidly taking on a bigger share. E-commerce companies are also pushing next-day and now same-day services hoping to take away the last stronghold of bricks-and-mortar shops: instant customer fulfilment.

The report also noted that autonomous mobile delivery robots are currently small slow-moving units that will need to return to base to charge. They often need close supervision and can only operate in sparsely-populated and highly-structured environments such as university campuses or special neighbourhoods.

He averred further that the idea of drone delivery sharply divides commentator opinion: some dismiss it as a mere publicity stunt while others consider it a game changer that will bring near instant product fulfilment to e-commerce, stripping traditional shops of their last major differentiator.

“Drone delivery faces critical challenges. Individual drones offer limited productivity compared to a traditional means of delivery. They can only carry small payloads and battery technology limits their flight duration, constraining them to around a 30 minute radius from their base while further lowering their productivity due to the downtime needed for re-charging and re-loading. Safety is a potential showstopper with many accidents waiting to happen.

“Drone delivery, however, is still in its infancy. Its short-term potential, we find, has been exaggerated. However, the technology has a long-term future, particularly within the context of the bigger trend to automate as much as of the logistic chain as possible.

“Indeed, we find that delivery drone sales will remain limited until 2027/28. Demand will then start to take off in remote or sparsely-populated areas (e.g. suburbs), ultimately enabling companies to establish large accumulated fleets. Despite their ultimate rise, however, drone delivery will remain only a small part of the much bigger commercial drone story.

The Research Director at IDTechEx agreed that trucking is a big business. In the US, the trucking industry revenues are in excess of $726bn. This is the equivalent of combined revenues of Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Baidu and then some (a lot) more. It is also a big employer: the US Bureau of Labour Statistics suggests that 1.79m people work in this sector driving 7.2m trucks for inter-city freight transport, earning an average salary of 41.3 k$/year.

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