The people who work in your organization, from the human resource department to the warehouse floor, are handpicked for their intelligence, drive, and ability. It follows that you’d do everything possible to keep them performing at the top of their game. Now, more than ever, robots are capable of supporting that goal. Read on to discover how warehouse automation enhances human ability – and how that automation is well within reach for any business application.

A Risky Line of Work

In the last few decades, organizations such as OSHA have made great strides in building an industrial workplace environment that keeps everyone safe and healthy. Over 1.7 million people in the United States work in warehousing. Statistically, a certain percentage of those are bound to experience injury. However, a simple search in a web browser shows that workers on the floor still run a particularly high risk of getting hurt while on the job.

In 2020, approximately 1,600 people were injured in warehouse and transportation areas in forklift-related accidents. This number doesn’t consider incidents involving semi-trucks, loading dock equipment, falls, or regular trips on loose objects. Due to the long hours and demanding challenges that may face a warehouse operator, overexertion is also not uncommon.

With the current global market moving as quickly as it is, and especially considering the upcoming holiday rush, there is no slowing down the pace at which a warehouse must operate to keep up with customer and supply chain demands. However, speeding up the pace at the expense of your workers’ health is not an option. You need a solution that will benefit both your workers and your bottom line.

Go Auto

Automated warehouses are the best answer to your safety problem. More machines than ever are designed to fit into your warehouse’s current flow and ramp up to production speed without hassle.

Take, for example, the “cobot” – a unique form of semi-autonomous mobile collaborative robot. These nifty helpers may already have found their way into your organization in one way or another. Cobots can have any number of uses alongside human workers. They work with people, not in place of them. Some operate like self-driving shopping carts that follow workers around as they pull items from shelves. Others can pull items from specified stock lists all by themselves and bring them to the humans who pack the products to be delivered. Some are even programmed to assist lost humans in finding out where to go within particularly large industrial complexes.

You can see another simple instance of automation assisting workers in robotic arms, a staple of many warehousing operations. Gone are the days when a human operator is always necessary for an arm to function correctly. Many of these machines can repeatedly lift, sort, and stack heavy objects with accuracy. These tasks are perfect for automated robots, as they remove the exertion and injury risk from such hazardous jobs from workers.

In addition, thanks to some exciting artificial intelligence (AI) development, industrial robots can communicate with human workers in a simple manner. AI technologies can assist nearly every step in the warehousing and logistics process. They can provide real-time updates on inventory levels using cloud computing, so everyone from the office to the loading dock knows how much product is coming and going.

AI programs can also help you stay ahead of supply chain issues. Some web-based programs can provide recommendations on operations improvements based on customer data.

Many enterprise resource planning (ERP) software models also utilize some form of AI. The programming in an ERP helps automate some daily tasks, so accounting and risk management processes can happen more quickly with fewer errors.

Your Equipment at Your Price

These advancements in robotics and software might be the perfect additions to your warehouse. However, owners of smaller ventures may be concerned about overhead costs and the expected increases in day-to-day operating costs.

At the same time, newer models of technology are put out at incredible speeds these days. Especially in operations that prioritize owning the latest equipment versions, the significant investment into any piece of technology becomes less relevant after the first few years of ownership. How are warehouses that don’t already have exceedingly high annual budgets supposed to compete on a large scale?

With this question in mind, some warehouses have begun turning to robots-as-a-service (RaaS) for solutions when filling their buildings with robots. RaaS works like many other subscription services you are likely already familiar with. In this system, a RaaS vendor rents a robot, or a set of robots, to a warehouse for a set contract period. This window of time could be as short as a few months or extend over multiple years. At the end of the agreed timeframe, the warehouse owner can decide whether to renew the contract or swap some of the machinery in the agreement for newer models.

This order of operations benefits warehouses in several ways. The price of renting a robot from a designated vendor is often cheaper in the long run than an outright purchase, followed by subsequent upgrades that may be necessary in the months immediately following the sale.

In addition, the RaaS vendor retains all ownership responsibilities, including maintenance. This means that the vendors, not the warehouses themselves, must take care of repairs and other bits of upkeep. Removing the burden of total purchasing and repairs from the plates of warehousing operations empowers smaller businesses to take advantage of up-to-date technology and equipment. These new machines, in turn, help keep everyone working near them safe and on the job so that business can continue to grow.

Often, RaaS vendors also offer software-as-a-service (SaaS). The SaaS model functions much like RaaS, in which a SaaS vendor rents software to member warehousing organizations using a cloud-based system. The SaaS applications remain the vendor’s property, so they once again take on the cost of updates and bug fixing. As with RaaS, SaaS helps businesses with smaller budgets bring AI and other significant accomplishments in computer science to their work floors.

Keeping workers safe should always be the top priority for any warehouse manager. Using programs such as RaaS and SaaS, your logistics professionals on the floor can continue growing and improving in their positions with advanced equipment and software, all without ruining your annual bottom line.

At GreyOrange, we value sharing the news and knowledge that keep every warehouse in the business at the top of its game. For more industry-leading information, check out our blog and stay informed about the latest robotics developments