I attribute the rapid adoption of mobile warehouse robotics in China to three factors:

As a general rule, technology diffusion in both product development and adoption is extremely rapid and widespread. In today’s world, information is disseminated faster than ever, and the trade of physical goods is extremely widespread as well. However, I believe that the rapid exchange of information has allowed companies to innovate and replicate at a much faster pace than in the recent past. This is particularly true for mechatronics that can be reverse engineered more readily than software code. Many executives of warehouse robotics companies to whom I have spoken inform me that they view the software intelligence of their robotics systems as the true strategic differentiators in their offerings.

Retailers, producers and distributors of consumer goods, and logistics service providers supporting retail clients are the three industries in China that appear to be adopting warehouse robotics most rapidly. Furthermore, most of this is adoption of robotics from domestic Chinese providers. I believe that Chinese retail and fulfillment operations are adopting mobile warehouse robotics so rapidly because of the paradigm that was also present in communications networks a decade ago – growth in demand driving a need for a technology solution in a landscape without widespread legacy automation in place. There are limited situations where existing automation can receive incremental updates that provide substantial benefits.

These warehouse operations are looking for substantial performance improvements over the status quo. And warehouse robotics offer throughput increases with lower capital costs, quicker time to value, and greater flexibility than many traditional forms of automation. The return on investment (ROI) decision is substantially different in these situations than it is in operations with existing bolted-down automation.

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