Season 4, Post 24: Follow the zebra
Talk to any business at present and they will likely cite supply chain challenges and inflationary pressures as major concerns. A recent study showed that almost 90% of warehouse operators believe they must implement new technology to be competitive. A further 80% state that the pandemic has forced them to evolve and modernise more quickly. To see one way in which these problems are being tackled, your author travelled 30 miles west of London earlier this week to visit the experience centre of Zebra Technologies.
Located in leafy Buckinghamshire, Zebra’s centre is one of four in the world (the others are in Chicago, New York and Singapore) where the business showcases solutions for customers. The company is a leading player within the enterprise asset intelligence space, providing hardware and software offerings to help businesses better understand the flow of their goods and people. Zebra describes itself as technology-agnostic, with its aim being to drive the most appropriate solution for each user. Relative to when your author last made a visit to Bourne End (in December 2018 – and so prior to the launch of the Future Trends blog), the size of the experience centre and the range of technologies on display had expanded notably.
Our small group got to see examples of Zebra’s solutions at work in warehouse, retail and healthcare environments. Begin with warehouses. Scanning items with a handheld device is time-consuming. Why not implement a fixed scanner instead under which goods can pass? Perhaps add in a machine vision solution that could check goods for faults and inconsistencies. Need to move something from one part of your warehouse (or factory, retail stockroom etc.) to another? Then use a robot. Smaller robots that can operate in tandem with humans mean that each can focus on what they are best at. Robots may be good at fetching and carrying things, but humans are still better – for now – at picking items from shelves/ bins. It was impressive to see the nimbleness of the robots on display at Zebra, navigating comfortably around unfamiliar objects such as our group. No surprise then that 90% of warehouses expect to deploy some form of autonomous mobile robot within the next five years, per the above study.
It may, of course, be easier to have robots operating behind the scenes in a factory or warehouse than in a hospital setting with anxious patients. However, hospitals can still improve and reduce errors by deploying technology. Basic products can help pinpoint the exact location of a patient or a trolley, whereas more complex examples might help ensure that temperature-critical products (some vaccines, for example) are appropriately monitored as they are moved from place to place. We saw solutions to address all these issues. Regardless of the environment, it seems clear that we are still in an early innings of automation.
15 June 2022
The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Heptagon Capital is an investor in Zebra Technologies. The author of this piece has no personal direct investment in the business. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
Alex Gunz, Fund Manager
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