5 Creative Ways to Use Robotics Process Automation in Logistics


Emily NewtonEditor-in-Chief at Revolutionized

Friday, December 16, 2022

Robotic process automation (RPA) is powering digital transformation in logistics, sparking optimization and innovation. This technology has enormous potential and the timing couldn’t be better. Supply chains are in increasingly high demand today, so logistics companies need creative solutions to stay ahead. Robotic process automation can help in several key ways.

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5 Creative Ways to Use Robotics Process Automation in Logistics
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Robotic process automation is a crucial digital transformation strategy gaining popularity in many industries today. RPA involves automating repetitive tasks using robotic software and automation tools. People often imagine physical robots when they think of automation, but RPA can also apply to digital back-office jobs.

Some initial investment and digitalization is necessary to make the most of RPA, but it’s worth the effort. RPA can free up significant amounts of time spent on repetitive tasks, allowing employees to be more productive with their work hours. Additionally, automating jobs leads to more efficient operations, which can go a long way toward helping logistics businesses and 3PLs keep up with the rapid pace of today’s supply chain.

Since time and resources are being utilized more efficiently, RPA can also result in cost savings. For instance, RPA could automate inventory monitoring, resulting in fewer perishable inventory units expiring before being shipped.

5 creative uses of RPA in logistics

There are many ways companies can use RPA in logistics today. From distribution to back-office operations, there are a few creative applications of robotic process automation that can transform logistics.

1. Autonomous transport and delivery

The last mile can be a hectic part of the logistics process. Coordinating delivery routes, times and the real-time tracking customers expect today make transportation and delivery complicated. Robotic process automation is helping to simplify this portion of logistics.

For example, Amazon has already made automated delivery mainstream using parcel lockers. Customers can choose to have their packages delivered to a local parcel locker, where they use a code to pick up the package whenever they want. Amazon may have popularized this technology, but any logistics business could use a similar strategy.

Automated delivery lockers can drastically simplify last-mile logistics. Even if only a quarter of customers opt for delivery to a parcel locker, that’s 25% fewer stops delivery drivers have to make. It also significantly reduces the likelihood of a package being delivered to the wrong address or stolen.

RPA has yet to hit transportation. Self-driving delivery trucks are definitely an exciting development on the horizon for logistics, though. Significant progress has been made over recent years in autonomous driving technology. For example, self-driving truck developer TuSimple reported in 2022 that its prototype tractor trailers have completed 550 miles of fully autonomous trucking.

2. IoT inventory monitoring

One of the leading technologies transforming logistics today is IoT devices — or the Internet of Things. Logistics professionals can apply robotic process automation to inventory management using IoT sensors. For example, an IoT sensor can autonomously monitor the temperature inside a shipping container, ensuring the interior climate remains stable.

IoT devices can also monitor inventory levels in warehouses and distribution centers. Crates can be given IoT tags that autonomously report climate conditions and inventory age to an IoT hub. From there, an automated inventory management program can track inventory levels and monitor items that may be perishable or time-sensitive.

The program can alert warehouse personnel if anything gets damaged, becomes too humid or cold or is nearing expiration. Applying RPA in logistics in this particular category can result in significant cost savings and a reduction in waste due to less inventory accidentally expiring or getting damaged.

3. AI logistics optimization

Robotic process automation can also improve the efficiency of logistics facilities. The organization of warehouses and the flow of traffic through them can majorly impact how efficiently and effectively a facility operates. The proper layout can result in a more productive warehouse, but testing new ideas without disrupting operations can be challenging.

RPA can help with this. Through AI-powered simulations and digital twins, logistics professionals can optimize their warehouse operations in a risk-free way. The process starts with creating a digital duplicate of the warehouse or distribution center. This model is designed to look, feel and run exactly like the real thing.

An AI algorithm can then analyze the current state of the warehouse and identify more efficient routes and shelving layouts. Digital twins and logistics simulations also give logistics teams the space to see how ideas for new configurations will run before executing them. Both of these optimization techniques result in a safer, more efficient warehouse. In fact, AI-powered logistics simulations can even find more efficient routes for delivery trucks.

4. Automated employee scheduling

Unpredictable work hours can be a serious issue for employers and employees alike. Research shows nearly 20% of U.S. employees know their work schedule less than one week in advance. Only 10% know their schedule a month in advance.

These unpredictable work hours can result in stress and anxiety that ultimately impact worker performance. Plus, last-minute schedules can be more challenging for staff members to commit to. RPA in logistics can help solve this problem by automating the scheduling process. Scheduling is a perfect candidate for robotic process automation since many managers still do it by hand.

An automated scheduling program can analyze all employees' preferred work hours and availability and identify the best possible schedule. If workers need to change their hours for any reason, they can use a self-service platform to send a request to the program. The AI algorithm can then pinpoint the best way to update the schedule for this change. As a result, employees get their hours sooner, likely resulting in better attendance and less stress.

5. Compliance and reporting

Compliance and documentation are playing an increasingly important role in logistics today. This is especially true given the rising popularity of Environment, Society and Governance — or ESG — reporting. Consumers’ expectations of businesses are rapidly changing, with many customers demanding they take action in the fight against climate change.

ESG reporting has become a way for companies to demonstrate their sustainability initiatives through hard data. The movement has rapidly gained popularity over recent years. In fact, in 2019, an estimated 90% of S&P 500 businesses published sustainability reports. However, data collection and reporting remain a struggle for ESG reporting.

Robotic process automation can help supply chain companies gather ESG and compliance data efficiently and accurately. IoT sensors can be placed at key points in logistics operations, tracking and collecting data in real-time. Rather than manually conducting an audit, data can be gathered autonomously around the clock. AI-powered logistics programs make it easy to compile and track all of this data as well, making the reporting process much more efficient.

Reaping the benefits of robotic process automation

The possibilities for RPA in logistics are as numerous as they are exciting. While the supply chain is under increasing pressure today, technology is helping logistics businesses evolve and innovate. Robotic process automation is transforming logistics, leading to optimized operations, a better worker experience and a more efficient supply chain.

Emily Newton

Emily is a tech and industrial journalist with over four years of experience writing articles for the industrial sector. She’s Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online publication exploring innovations in manufacturing, technology and science. 


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