Warehousing has evolved over the years, especially with the development of warehouse management systems, inventory optimization and expanded services for e-commerce fulfillment. But perhaps nothing stands to change the sector quite as much as a technology first introduced nearly 60 years ago – robotics. The movement started in 1961 and the technology has advanced so significantly that robots now perform a full complement of tasks previously owned by warehouse staff. This game-changer solves many current challenges in warehousing while opening doors to new levels of efficiency and service.
Robots are built as productivity machines. Some estimates show that robots can pick 300-500 items per hour compared to a human which averages 100. The increase in productivity allows warehouses to have more throughput without necessarily increasing storage capacity. Robots also can process more because they are not subject to labor laws for mandatory breaks or paid time off like their human counterparts. They tend to make fewer picking errors as well.
Where robots currently do fall behind employees is in autonomous, higher order thinking. This has created the need for “cobotics” where humans and robots work in tandem to assist both in achieving better results. With robots, warehouses can create more specialized staff positions better suited for people. The robots can collect products from across the warehouse and deliver them to a staffer who completes the packing and shipping process. Co-working allows multiple tasks to be completed simultaneously increasing efficiency across the operation. With ecommerce expected to grow 15% annually, warehouses need the improved speed and accuracy “cobotics” provides.
Addressing Warehouse Workforce Challenges
Warehouse operations typically experience high turnover and open positions. As of February 2020, the sector had 295,000 unfilled jobs in the U.S. This represents an 18% increase in openings from the year prior. Turnover averages about 36% while hiring and training a new employee can cost as much as 25% of their salary. Industry analysts predict robots will reduce the overall salary costs of warehouses by replacing some people positions and easing the burden of such high turnover. This may sound like a win for warehouse owners and a loss for employees, but robotics offers another important contribution – improved working conditions. Today’s robots are taking on monotonous, labor-intensive tasks. They can lift more, travel further and operate longer. This reduces safety issues within the workplace that contribute to workers’ compensation claims and decreased retention. By adjusting job demands, robots actually stand to create jobs within the warehousing sector for more people with different physical abilities while also boosting the need for higher skilled positions.
The Robotics Return on Investment
Warehouses manage with thin margins, so many operations have been slow to adopt robotic technologies. However, further streamlining existing operations without significant technology investments is becoming more difficult. For warehouses hesitant to move forward, robotics offers another major benefit – artificial intelligence (AI). While most capital investments depreciate in value over time, robots carry a type of appreciating value by becoming smarter the more tasks they complete. Just as humans learn over time, so do computers. With artificial intelligence, the machines can execute higher cognitive functions such as learning, reasoning, and problem-solving. McKinsey estimates that the logistics industry could gain as much as 89% in incremental value over time through AI adoption. A transformation of this magnitude is particularly important for warehousing where robotics can both augment human tasks and fully automate other functions. What started in 1961 stands to transform this industry for decades to come.
Learn More about Langham
At Langham Logistics, we know warehousing. Our facilities combine skilled employees with advanced technology for state-of-the-art operations. From storage to picking, packing, shipping, and full-service fulfillment services, we offer it all. Reach out to see how Langham can get your products from point A to B with unmatched expertise.