Automation has been touted as the future of the material handling industry and at one time, the “warehouse of the future” was a lights-out, all-robot workplace. Since the onset of the pandemic, the need for resilient supply chains has re-energized investigation into adding robotics to warehouse operations. The shift to eCommerce and increasing demand for fast order fulfillment have created challenges for the distribution industry, especially in light of the current labor shortage. Once seen as a potential cause of job loss in our industry, how can robotics be paired with human workers for the optimal solution?
The correct solution is a seamless combination of the two, combining the strength and speed of robots with the creativity and skill of human workers. It is often thought that robotic automation will eventually take the place of human workers, however, a much more effective transformation would blend robotic and human operations, enhancing the work environment, preserving jobs, allowing more flexibility, and creating a safer working environment.
Distribution can be faster, cheaper and safer when robots are paired with humans. Excessive automation can be expensive and time-consuming to design, implement and troubleshoot. Relying only on human labor can be risky, expensive and unreliable with potential injuries, time-off and low productivity. By combining the two, human workers can tackle tasks that require flexibility or creativity, and robots can accomplish tasks that leverage their ability for repetitive tasks that require speed and strength.
Human-robot collaboration also allows the flexibility required today to meet changing consumer demands for faster fulfillment plus better manage volume fluctuations. Many companies find it challenging to scale up operations during peak season, as seen with recent labor shortages. Today, it is possible to use Robots as a Service (RaaS) to supplement human workers with robots to manage higher order volume.
As consumer demand grows, distribution professionals must consider blending the best of robotics with their human staff to enhance productivity, speed operations and create a safer environment.
You can read Part 2 here.