Warehouse robotics can be loosely defined as applications of robotics technology used to obtain warehouse automation. It’s a wide-ranging term referring to the use of robots, automation systems, and specialized software to perform various tasks, such as material transport, packaging, and palletizing.
Global warehouse robotics market
According to 2018 research by the World Economic Forum, by 2025, automation will handle more than half of all current workplace tasks as opposed to 29% in 2018. A study by MHI-Deloitte also indicates a 30% adoption of robots and automation technology in the supply chain industry.
Warehouse robotics is only a portion of overall warehouse automation systems, but it is a growing business. The global warehouse robotic market was valued at USD 6 billion in 2022 and is anticipated to reach USD 15.7 billion by 2030, registering a CAGR of 11.8%, based on data provided by Next Move Strategy Consulting.
Another research from Gen Consulting Company reported a growth of 13.9% between 2022-2028 for the warehouse robotics market. The firm estimated the market revenue at USD 10.7 billion in 2022 and a forecasted revenue of USD 23.5 billion by 2028. The increasing inclination towards an in-house distributing facility in the retail sector has helped the market to grow. Warehouse robots are used in these facilities to optimize order fulfillment operations.
Warehouse robotics market segmentation based on type and application
By product type, the warehouse robotic market is divided into mobile robots, collaborative robots, articulated robots, SCARA and cylindrical robots, and others. Mobile robots are further divided into automated guided vehicles (AGV) and automated mobile robots (AMR), together they are dominating the market with the AGV contributing USD 1.43 billion in revenue and the AMR USD 1.47 billion in 2022.
AGVs were the first large robots that began to work in warehouses. To prevent them from becoming lost and causing harm to workers or disrupting operations, AGVs were constrained to follow a predetermined path similar to a train or a slot car. If they encountered any obstacles, they would come to a halt. But the new breed of AMR is autonomous and navigates freely using onboard AI, based on their knowledge of the warehouse layout. This represents a significant technological advancement as they can also avoid unexpected obstacles.
With a demand of over 70 000 units for AGVs and AMRs combined, mobile robots make up around 53% of all warehouse robotics demand in 2022. Interact Analysis reported over 100,000 mobile robots, both AGVs and AMRs, were shipped globally in 2021. This is a milestone in mobile robot sales owing to the global labor shortage coupled with the vast growth of the e-commerce business.
Collaborative robots or cobots currently take up only a small portion of the overall warehouse robotics system, with a demand of around 6000 units in 2022. But this segment has a 14.3% CAGR, the highest market growth compared to other types of robots in the warehouse robotics market.
In terms of function, picking and placing is the most common application of warehouse robotics with around 34% of robotic fleet being used for this function. The market value created from this segment reached USD 1.8 billion in 2022 and is expected to hit USD 4.5 billion by 2030.
28% of warehouse robotics are utilized for palletizing function, 22% for sorting and packaging, and another 15% for transportation of goods. In relation to the market value, these three segments contributed USD 1.6 billion, USD 1.3 billion, and USD 900 million respectively to the total revenue of the market.
Within the end-user segmentation, as expected, the retail/ e-commerce segment held the highest share (around 27%-29%) of the warehouse robotic market in 2022 and is estimated to continue its dominant share until the end of the forecast period with a growth rate between 9.8% - 15.3%, based on data from Next Move Strategy Consulting and Gen Consulting Company.
The massive growth of e-commerce business is the driving force that escalates the growth of the warehouse market and warehouse automation market. The US alone is predicted to need U.S. may another 1 billion square feet of warehouse space by 2025 as e-commerce booms. Interact Analysis’ database reveals 50 000 new warehouses, each with a footprint of over 50,000 sq ft, will become available within the next six years and 4 million robot deployments are expected to happen in those warehouses. At least 25% of the warehouse space will be used for online fulfillment. With this information in mind, there is a possibility we will see higher growth in the warehouse robotics market, more than what has been predicted by market research companies.
Automotive, Food & Beverages, Electronics, Healthcare, and chemicals are another four major sectors where warehouse robotics are being deployed. Each sector takes up 22%, 9%, 14%, 2%, and 7% respectively.
Amazon and Kiva Robots that started it all
It’s almost impossible to talk about warehouse automation without mentioning Amazon, the e-commerce giant that first introduced the use of robotics in its e-commerce warehouses with the deployment of Kiva robots. Amazon acquired Kiva in 2012, renaming it Amazon Robotics in 2015, to serve its own order fulfillment needs.
The removal of Kiva robots from the open market prompted a change in the robotic field from being obsessed with humanoid robots to putting an effort into developing warehouse robots to fill the gap in the market. The entire autonomous robot sector was actually formed because of Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva.
As a start, Quiet Logistics, a third-party provider of e-commerce fulfillment service that was previously a user of Kiva robots, was forced to search for a robot replacement. Unable to find one, they set up their own robotic company, Locus Robotics, in 2015. Numerous other startups came to the market soon after such as Fetch Robotics, Vecna, Seegrid, and Omron Robotics, to name a few.
Meanwhile, Amazon Robotics went quiet about its activities until 2019, when it started to announce its innovations to the outside world. Ten years after its inception, the company unveiled Proteus in 2022 - a new robotic technology that prioritizes safety to establish a secure working environment for both humans and robots collaborating together.
To this day, Amazon remains at the forefront of the warehouse robotics industry, accounting for 38% of the demand for robotics within the US warehouse automation sector, operating over 500 000 robots in their warehouses. Although their automation investments have slowed down in the post-pandemic era, Amazon continues to invest substantially more than Walmart and Target combined, the two strongest local competitors for Amazon.
Top companies in the global warehouse robotic market
Since Amazon Robotics only operates for Amazon fulfillment centers, other companies are up to take their share in the global market. Unsurprisingly, established giants in the field of robotics such as ABB, Yaskawa, KUKA, and Fanuc command a significant share of the market.
Locus Robotics, Vecna, Omron, Grey Orange, and Fetch Robotics, which started as start-ups, have successfully secured their positions as important players in the market. Many of them use the RaaS (Robot as a Service) business model, providing cloud-based subscription package approach to deploying AGVs and AMRs. This service makes robots more accessible for mid-scale warehouses. Even in today’s reality, companies with full warehouse automation still remain in the minority due to the high capital cost to procure robotic technology. RaaS offers a more budget friendly alternative for warehouse automation.