How will AI & Tech affect the future of logistical jobs?

As AI becomes the technology which is most likely to impact our core sectors in coming years, we take a look at the implications for logistics workers.

Independent market research firm Tractica estimates that the sales of warehousing and logistics robots will reach $22.4 billion (£17.4 billion) by 2021. It is therefore expected that latest technologies, like AI, machine learning and big data, will bring in more groundbreaking innovations that can completely alter the way in which the logistics sector currently operates.

Workers may subsequently fear that AI will steal their jobs but this is not necessarily the case. One of the most game-changing aspects of AI in logistics is going to be that it allows employees to work on less menial projects and tasks that both challenge them, while directly affecting their company’s bottom line for the better.

Here we examine the key ways in which AI is changing the logistics industry.

Demand forecasting

One of the most game-changing aspects of AI in logistics is going to be its ability to predict demand, optimise delivery routes and manage networks. The predictive analytics part of AI helps companies make significant changes to their business based on the patterns that AI unearths. Its ability to objectively measure the factors that lead towards efficiency helps its prediction in demand accuracy. The forecasting is not a one-time thing, it can also predict trends based on different variables like weather and real-time sales.

Being able to predict the number of sales expected from a particular region or the amount of delivery trucks needed will help logistics, supply chain and transportation planning teams. Using IoT, it can also determine when a vehicle needs servicing, or a specific service so that there is no breakdown during the middle of a delivery. 

Big data

Data in logistics is not always refined, which is where AI comes into play by using algorithms to clean the data. Big data used with AI helps to predict shipping volumes and plan for the future based on historical data. It will take into account other factors like weather and political landscape and subsequently make such decisions.

AI can also gather data from all touch points, analyse it and formulate with patterns which can help to make significant changes in the supply chain management. There is a lot of structured and unstructured data that the AI platform receives and it can intelligently combine all of them to great effect.

Last-mile delivery

The focus of last-mile delivery is to ensure that the goods reach the customer as fast as possible. When an order is placed, there should be a system to ensure that the product is sent through the right channels, is packaged properly and a delivery time range is informed to the customer. Making people do this is a tedious task and costly. AI makes this a smooth affair by managing the different data points and assigning the executive as well as predicting the time it takes for the order to finally reach the customer. In fact, AI drones have also been employed in a few parts around the world as a part of last-mile delivery logistics.

Real-time decision making

In logistics, there are a wide range of tasks that require data to make decisions. For example, finding the best possible route, scheduling and choosing the most optimal carrier. All of these decisions will take a few minutes for the average human mind to compute. But, with the help of AI, there is an instant solution which sifts through thousands of data points in seconds.

Contingency plans

AI is trained in such a way that it can prepare for unexpected events and predict the best method to tackle such situations. It can also work on corrective measures so that they may be avoided in the future. The AI grows in tact as it keeps facing situations, which makes it an important asset as it improves at predicting events and navigating emergencies.

Information processing

There is so much data floating around logistics businesses that if it is not identified and segmented properly, chaos will no doubt ensue. For example, making sure that the customer information itself is correct can present a huge challenge, as can validating the products ordered, matching them to the specific customer and ensuring that there are no botched up orders can all be daunting tasks. AI makes all of this simple by validating the information in seconds. Its predictive abilities ensure that it always finds the fastest route possible to make products reach the customer in a timely fashion. 

Intelligent warehousing 

Online grocer Ocado’s Andover warehouse is entirely run by robots. It fulfills more than 65,000 orders (or about 3.5 million grocery items) every week. The robots, using AI, move, lift and segregate the items which are then packed by the employees. It ensures that the entire space is utilised by stacking boxes high by keeping up to 17 of them on top of each other. 

The AI is so smart that items which are rarely ordered are kept at the bottom while the ones that are frequently ordered can be seen on the top. This makes it easy to get the products that are ordered off the shelf saving a lot of time in completing orders. 

In addition, Amazon’s Kiva Robots have the ability to pick up goods and distribute them to different warehouses in a matter of five minutes.

In the near future, AI’s automation abilities will be integrated into all warehouses working alongside employees to create a more fluid environment. 

Movement tracking

The IoT, which comprises a network of devices that share data among themselves, can be paired with AI to add value to the logistics industry. For example, it can track all sorts of data wherever it has sensors enabled to help to streamline supply chain management and keep human interaction as minimal as possible. Benefits include:

  • Helps to manage fleets more efficiently.
  • Senses environment better.
  • Locates the truck easily.
  • Better supply-demand balance.
  • Shipment tracking

To conclude

There is no doubt that AI and robotics will rebalance what jobs look like in the future, and that some are more susceptible than others but the future is, ultimately, promising.

Automating more manual and repetitive tasks will eliminate some existing jobs but will also enable workers to focus on higher value work, while removing monotony from daily tasks and paper pushing activities. In addition, AI should create additional jobs in less automatable aspects of the economy.

What is important is making sure that the potential gains from automation are shared across society and that no one gets left behind. Responsible employers need to ensure they encourage flexibility and adaptability in their people so that everyone is ready for the change.

In the future, knowledge will be a commodity so a shift in thinking about how future generations are trained and upskilled will prove invaluable. Creative and critical thinking will be highly valued, as will emotional intelligence, which humans, as opposed to robots, have in spades.