Robots aren’t new to supply chains. The first industrial robot was produced in 1956 and could move material approximately 12 feet. Next generation robots were relegated to industrial manufacturing, as they weren’t safe for people to be around while in use. Today, we’ve progressed from giant robotic arms to small robotics that move material across warehouses and even sort a variety of products.
There’s no doubt that these latest iterations of robotics and automation could be what drive Industry 5.0. At the same time, concern is growing over the impact job automation could have on the labor force. The warehouse industry currently employs more than 1.1 million Americans.
Robotics aren’t here to steal jobs. Instead, adding warehouse automation can enhance productivity. When a machine is performing a repetitive task, your workforce is freed up to focus on higher-value work.
Warehouse Automation and Robotics
Automation makes the most sense in warehouses, where repetitive actions are the norm. Rather than thinking of robots and automation as competition for jobs, it’s important for leadership to ensure new robots are collaborative instead. Collaborative robots function as a flexible automation solution, bridging the gap between operational staff, existing equipment, and data systems.
In fact, automated robots are already changing the face of warehousing:
- Optimized Resource Management and Flexibility: With the ebb and flow of fulfillment demand, it’s often necessary to adjust your warehouse’s capabilities to accommodate demand. Rather than executing a costly solution such as changing your warehouse layout or using alternate shifts, you can easily retrofit robots into new warehouse layouts. Some robotics providers also offer additional rentals so that you can expand to meet current capacity. Robots can easily be transferred to different facilities, allowing you to meet scalable needs on time and on budget.
- Increased Warehouse Productivity: While there may be 1.1 million Americans employed in warehouses, the number of qualified warehouse workers is decreasing, leading to staffing challenges. Adding collaborative robots can increase productivity two to three times without adding undue stress on your current employees.
- Real-Time Data-Driven Decisions: By leveraging machine learning, collaborative robots can easily “learn” how to make data-driven decisions in real time. Based on data findings, a robot can empower human colleagues to handle multiple tasks during one walking trip on the floor, not only accomplishing more in less time, but also protecting the level of wear and tear on the human body from walking long and far on a hard concrete floor.
- Increased Reliability: Robotics may never need a sick day like their human colleagues, but breakdowns can occur, leaving a robotic “employee” dead weight. With robots’ portability and serviceability, it’s easy to move another robot into play while repairs are made, allowing the warehouse to continue on with little to no downtime.
How Humans and Robots Can Work Together
While it’s easy to fear the unknown future of a more fully robotic and automated warehouse and supply chain, these electronic colleagues should be seen not as competition, but as profound development for saving time so that people can spend time on more productive tasks. Uniquely human aspects such as imagination, creativity, curiosity, and emotional and social intelligence are things that machines will never have. Instead, focusing robotics on the menial tasks frees our minds for that specifically human work. Work like that will be on the rise as humanity continues to push for products and services that will empower us to achieve more.
The transition to warehouse automation and robotics may be painful because of these real fears of human job loss. Yet it will still take human touch to understand both emotional context and perform creative problem-solving. Thus, reframing how robotics work with human colleagues and committing to upskilling employees for the tasks robots cannot handle will make this transformation period less painful.
Warehouse Automation and PositiveVision
Adding robotics and automation will create a veritable landslide of data from your warehouse. Tracking that data and making use of it requires having the right ERP and other business software solutions purpose-built for your warehouse and manufacturing business. For nearly two decades, PositiveVision has been delivering manufacturing and distribution software solutions based on business needs to help organizations streamline systems and processes, resulting in maximized business analytics, technology, and lean workflow.
Find out how we can help you select the best software for your needs, both human and robotic, by contacting our software experts today.