Intelligent automation combines artificial intelligence (AI) technology with robotic process automation (RPA)

Intelligent automation for decision-making in the warehouse

10 June 2022

Intelligent automation combines artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies with robotic process automation (RPA) to streamline business operations, running the gamut from administration and production to logistics and supply chain management. 

In warehousing, this combination of technologies facilitates the implementation of technology and software solutions that optimise flows of goods and boost productivity in logistics facilities. Intelligent automation is also known as intelligent process automation (IPA). 

What is intelligent automation?

Intelligent automation, also referred to as cognitive automation, is the combination of technologies such as AI, machine learning, machine vision, business process management (BPM) and robotic process automation (RPA) to boost efficiency across organisations. 

In other words, intelligent automation comprises the integration of software with new technologies that automate process management in areas such as production lines, warehouses and finance departments. Thanks to AI and machine learning, these advanced programs mimic human tasks to establish more productive, error-free procedures.

Applied to the supply chain, this combination of technologies simplifies logistics processes, fosters end-to-end warehouse management and, most notably, reduces the risk of errors due to manual data or product handling. A recent study from consulting company PwC points to the weight that intelligent automation will have in the digitisation of companies: “Combining automation with data analytics can help organisations to deliver quicker outcomes through increased accuracy and enhanced operational efficiency. Advancements in analytics, IA, and AI are enabling businesses to improve performance and productivity, reshape organisational structure, permanently upgrade the ways of working and have a significant impact on the economy.”

Intelligent automation could replace conventional decision-making in the pharmaceutical and automotive industries, in addition to many others. The implementation of AI in the robotic processes of warehouses and production centres could also make it possible to forecast demand in order to adapt the stock stored or produced to market needs. Additionally, automating decision-making would minimise the risk of errors in the manufacture, procurement and storage of products while ensuring a safe, efficient environment for operators and goods. 

The 4 pillars of intelligent automation

Intelligent automation constitutes the process of digital transformation through the use of analytics and AI to systematise decision making. These are its four key cornerstones: 

  • Robotic process automation (RPA): this type of technological automation uses software robots ― which can be installed on a PC, physical server, or virtual machine ― to automate the management of tasks formerly carried out by humans. 
  • Artificial intelligence (AI): advanced AI algorithms provide machines, robots and software with the ability to make decisions intelligently and without the need to interact with humans. 
  • Business process management (BPM): this practice refers to the analysis and optimisation of any of an organisation’s processes, i.e., the set of operations carried out within a company. BPM software is charged with automating the execution of these processes to avoid errors arising from manual management.
  • Integration: intelligent automation must ensure that the different software robots are synced to maintain integrated, agile and reliable operations. APIs (application programming interfaces) play an important role in the connection between systems. 

Benefits of intelligent automation

Intelligent automation enhances the performance of robotic software processes. At the same time, it enables machines, robots and applications to make automated decisions through machine learning. 

The main advantages of implementing an intelligent automation system are: 

  • Cost reductions: intelligent automation employs data analysis to establish more productive processes in terms of both the software robots and management programs, such as those relating to the administration of operator tasks. 
  • Improved quality of products and services: pairing AI with process automation maximises accuracy in the different operations. 
  • Error-free management and organisation: intelligent automation automates processes that, if carried out manually, could result in mistakes in administrative tasks, legal contracts and in the management of warehouse documentation, for example.

Consulting company McKinsey puts figures on the impact of intelligent automation: automating 50% to 70% of tasks translates into annual run-rate cost efficiencies of 25% to 35%. Likewise, the time spent on the different business processes is cut by 50% to 60%.

Intelligent automation helps to improve the performance of robotic solutions
Intelligent automation helps to improve the performance of robotic solutions

Intelligent automation in the warehouse

Intelligent automation is becoming more and more prevalent in logistics. There are numerous software programs specialised in optimising the performance of warehousing and transportation operations. For instance, advanced management software programs apply data analysis and demand forecasting to maximise productivity in facilities. 

In addition to coordinating warehouse processes, these systems sync the tasks of both the operators and the automated storage and conveying solutions operating in the facility.

In the research article Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence in Industry 4.0, Jorge Ribeiro, a professor at the Polytechnic Institute of Viana do Castelo (Portugal), sums up intelligent automation as follows: “Industry 4.0 — the revolution we are experiencing today — lives on the fusion of the Internet of Things, intelligent automation, intelligent devices and processes and cyber-physical systems. The combination of all these concepts and technologies brings a significant change in industrial processes, affecting the workflow of digital processes throughout the company. Nowadays and to improve these processes, they are incorporating automation of some steps through robots (RPA). In addition, RPA nowadays incorporates … intelligent techniques and algorithms (AI), which allows to reach levels of intelligence in the automation of processes within a company.”

McKinsey echoes this, offering a snapshot of what could be the widespread adoption of this technology in logistics in the next decade. The consulting firm points out that many operations could be automated by 2030, as AI takes charge of the numerous repetitive activities carried out by logistics companies.

Likewise, McKinsey indicates that we will see facilities with fully automated racking and autonomous vehicles circulating in the aisles. Warehouse managers will be able to view all operations via augmented reality glasses, which will help them to coordinate both people and robots. Meanwhile, warehouse management systems (WMSs) will monitor inventory in real time.

Cutting-edge warehouse management software tracks inventory in real time
Cutting-edge warehouse management software tracks inventory in real time

Intelligent automation will be bolstered by the implementation of technologies such as 5G to ensure maximum precision and synchronisation between the production lines and the different automated software robots. In his report The Impact of 5G on the Evolution of Intelligent Automation and Industry Digitization, Mohsen Attaran, a professor at California State University, Bakersfield, says: “5G networking technologies provide the network characteristics essential for manufacturing. 5G will give manufacturing companies a chance to build smart factories and truly take advantage of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence and augmented reality for troubleshooting.”

Intelligent automation: how to digitise decision-making

Intelligent automation is the introduction of AI and machine learning in business processes. State-of-the-art software programs use these technologies to minimise the risk of error in decision-making and to streamline processes.

In warehousing, intelligent automation contributes towards the creation of advanced software to manage operations in a logistics facility. These programs apply data analysis and demand forecasting to improve reliability and productivity in warehousing tasks. Want to know more about how automation and digitisation can benefit your warehouse? Don’t hesitate to contact us. An expert consultant will offer you the ideal solution for your facility.