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Industry experts believe that the current crisis will help improve the penetration of automation technology in the logistics industry. Photo: Bloomberg
Industry experts believe that the current crisis will help improve the penetration of automation technology in the logistics industry. Photo: Bloomberg

Automation enables Indian organisations to wade through logistics issues exposed by covid-19

  • Supply chains continue to be plagued by pre-digital processes that are manual and have slowed systems with disconnected teams, leading to many inefficiencies and higher costs

NEW DELHI : With covid-19 exposing the fragility of over-dependence on manual processes in supply chain operations, organizations heavily dependent on transportation and distribution of goods are now shifting to robotic process automation (RPA).

As the lockdown created a stress on manpower ability, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai switched to an RPA solution developed by UiPath and EY India to generate bulk e-passes for service aggregators supplying essential supplies and services to residents of Mumbai. This allowed them to reduce time spent by their staff on redundant tasks.

According to a recent study by IBM Institute for Business Value, supply chains continue to be plagued by pre-digital processes that are manual and have slowed systems with disconnected teams, leading to many inefficiencies and higher costs.

“In order to overcome these pain points, many manufacturing companies are turning to RPA to attain improved agility and more streamlined operations across the value chain, resulting in cost savings across various touch points. With the onslaught of covid - 19, these companies have found a greater push to turn to RPA," said Manish Bharti, president, UiPath India and SAARC.

Automation has helped some of these companies pull through the crisis better. A case in point is Shree Malani Foams, a manufacturing company for polyurethane foam, that started using RPA to manage e-way bills, order management and customs documentation in late 2019. During the lockdown, two processes – sales order creation and e-way bill generation saw a 25% increase in efficiency. The sales order creation, specifically, has helped the company ensure business continuity during this period.

According to Autoplant System, a logistics management company, as organisational cash flows take top priority, optimum balance of manpower will become important. Social distancing protocol will also require manufacturers to operate with minimum manpower. Automation can help companies cope with this new normal.

Third party logistics companies that use technology have seen a spike in interest in their platforms too. “We have seen a huge growth in our essential category segment during the lockdown period," said Vaibhav Gupta, City Manager, Bangalore and Chennai, Lalamove India Pvt Ltd, on-demand logistics company, which works with several FMCG companies.

UiPath's Bharti also pointed out that while the traditional manufacturing sector was at a standstill for a while due to factories being closed, other sectors such as insurance, pharma, healthcare and state governments saw a spike in automation queries and implementation.

Though several lockdown restrictions have been eased in recent days, supply chain woes still remain. Labour shortage brought on by mass migration of labourers has forced logistics companies too to work at reduced capacity.

However, this shortage of labour to drive trucks, load/ unload goods or operate cranes cannot be resolved by automation.

Gupta feels, automation can only facilitate easy availability of labour. But if labour is not available automation can’t produce it. If a customer requires loading and unloading of goods, the company’s order allocation mechanism looks for drivers who have labourers available with them. It will look for a vehicle that is closest to where the order has come from and alert them.

Industry experts believe that the current crisis will help improve the penetration of automation technology in the logistics industry.

Deepal Shah, CFO, Allcargo Logistics said that in India, use of automation has been low due to high cost of investment and availability of labour at low price. However, he feels that to increase efficiency, automation of most processes will be the key and many companies are already looking at that. "When volume goes up, labour alone cannot achieve certain amount of efficiency. There is a huge opportunity for automation right now," he added.

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