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Industry group proposes plan to increase automation in logistics facilities

The warehousing and storage industry faces growing demand to deliver goods across the country as consumers purchase more goods online.

To address the productivity crunch and improve workers’ well-being, policymakers should establish measures to support robotic automation in logistics facilities, according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the leading think tank for science and technology policy.

Morgan Stevens, a research assistant at ITIF who wrote the report, says: “Firms need to adopt robotics to help workers accomplish more per hour and stay safe while doing so.

“But despite advances in robotics, adoption has been slow because of their cost and how difficult it is to retrofit warehouses with new technology. That’s why Congress and the Biden administration need to step in and support robotics adoption and innovation.”

The report provides an overview of retail e-commerce in the United States and the types of logistics facilities that support the e-commerce industry and how they function.

According to the report, automating processes in logistics facilities would increase labor productivity, improve worker safety, and streamline how facilities use their space. The report also breaks down the current state of robot adoption in the warehousing and storage industry.

ITIF argues that policymakers should facilitate robot adoption and innovation in logistics facilities in order to:

  • Help firms increase productivity and, in turn, boost supply chain resiliency.
  • Address underinvestment in robotics equipment that results from firms focusing on short-term profitability.
  • Support firms, including smaller ones, that lack sufficient information and resources to adopt new technologies.
  • Maximize positive spillovers from investing in automation that individual firms do not capture.

To encourage the uptake of robotic systems in logistics facilities, the report offers 10 policy recommendations:

  • Enact tax policies that encourage investment in automation and robotics.
  • Prioritize robotic automation in government warehouses.
  • Increase funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for robotics research.
  • Target funding to robotics research.
  • Modernize safety standards for machinery in industrial settings.
  • Support small logistics and warehousing companies.
  • Create a national robotics awards program.
  • Raise the minimum wage.
  • Support workers displaced by automation.
  • Launch an advisory committee for robotics innovation and adoption.

“The warehousing and storage industry needs to improve its productivity through automation, or it will risk delaying growth in the broader wholesale and retail trade sectors to the detriment of producers, consumers, and its own workers,” says Stevens.

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