Since someone first coined the term “robot,” consumers and business leaders have hotly debated the necessity and long-term implications of robotics in the industrial workplace. Science fiction has gone so far as to imagine a world where AI technologies replace most of the human workforce, leaving mortals without real work.
Despite these sci-fi ideas, robots have continued their track record of dynamic development. Robots are becoming more sophisticated and AI systems more skilled. Now, machines are taking over tasks traditionally given to human workers, and the argument is beginning to see a clear winner.
Today, we look at why your warehouse should shift towards automation and how automating processes can maintain your competitive edge.
One of the most common pushbacks to fully implementing automation on the warehouse floor is the apparent sacrifice of human workers. A manager would have to replace workers to use robots to their maximum potential. After all, machines have replaced up to six workers simultaneously, and have done so effectively. In a country on an uncertain brink of another recession, no labor administrator would be keen on laying off significant portions of their workforce.
However, these well-meaning fears are generally unfounded. As reviewed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics , employment opportunities in warehousing operations in the U.S. abound. In addition, wages at hourly rates far surpass the federal minimum requirement. Despite this, and the 17.9 million workers currently on the job, storage facilities and warehouses are struggling with a worker shortage. A low labor force participation rate has reached every economic sector over the last few years. It’s not that robots would replace workers already there; they can fill in to perform tasks that no humans are available to do.
Human workers, too, can benefit from added robotic helpers. On top of long hours, daily warehouse operations can involve manual labor that exacts a heavy toll on the human body. A workplace injury temporarily removes a worker from the labor force and usually involves enough paperwork and insurance questions to cause headaches.
Establishing systems that lower the number of injuries per year benefit the workforce, but may slow down production and affect your bottom line. Robots offer a solution to the inevitable productivity obstacle of injury prevention efforts. Simply put, hardware cannot be injured in the same fashion as a human worker. This fact means that, while all robots need repair and maintenance from time to time, they can still reduce injuries on the warehouse floor. This means more workers doing their jobs and fewer setbacks on projects.
In previous years, having a “solid foundation” in your warehouse operations meant that you had all of the necessary equipment to fulfill your basic quotas. Often, this involved buying the latest models of your essential machines, with the understanding that they would last you for years without need of replacement. The only thing you needed to worry about was routine maintenance.
Now, having such a “solid” system often means that your operations are “fixed” — or, to put it in clearer terms, “stuck”. Owning and installing robots is a significant investment you will not likely give up on quickly. However, this does not match the pace of the current field of robotics. The truth is that innovation in mechanized hardware now comes at faster speeds than ever before.
There’s a common problem plaguing warehouses today. It’s the almost immediate obsolescence of new robots, no matter how top-of-the-line at the point of sale. Once you complete installation, download essential software, and get the machine operational, three new models may have rolled out. Or your warehouse may have had to operationally adapt some other way to make your purchase redundant.
To combat this issue, companies offering Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) have grown in popularity over the last few years. Essentially, these vendors rent robots to warehouses and manufacturing centers on contract bases, all while retaining the responsibility for repairs and upkeep.
The benefits of this arrangement are numerous. Warehouses can get the hardware they need to stay relevant without sinking resources into robots that become outdated before a company realizes significant return on investment. Many RaaS providers work on flexible payment scales, so smaller warehouses have a chance to stay competitive. As a bonus, minimal OpEx must be dedicated to maintenance when the vendor is already taking care of it.
The concept of machines rented to distribution centers has expanded to include the software programmed into the robots. This is where the most significant advancements can be found, as the software can integrate with existing systems like SAP or Oracle, make real time decisions and instruct the robots where to go, to achieve maximum efficiency. This, too, offers more opportunities to companies with less flexibility to pay high front-end costs. With more options to mix and match the rentable hardware and software, more warehouses can stay relevant and at peak efficiency.
If you step outside, you’ll notice that everything seems to have gotten faster. Cars speed by, jumbo jets streak across the sky, and your laptop seems to perform a million jobs in moments. Our global economy is built on the idea that the quicker one task gets done, the sooner another can begin.
Warehouse robots are no different. The software implemented in many robots now performs feats of computer science unthinkable just a decade ago. Thanks to groundbreaking advancements in AI development, robots can save time by problem-solving in various situations without human intervention. With the right software installed, machines can now “talk” to each other, communicating information from a data set to one another within seconds.
With such abilities, adding robots to your operations is likely imperative to remain competitive. The robots you add can make your warehouse run at a level of efficiency that is simply unattainable using a human workforce alone. Your workers may also appreciate the extra help in crunching numbers, tracking orders, and expecting workplace and operational needs before they arise.
When you look at the benefits robots can add to your warehouse, it’s hard to imagine a world without them. Your distribution center is ready to achieve its next great goals, and machines can get you there.