Supply chain issues, labor shortages, and ever-increasing ecommerce demand… there was a lot to talk about in Memphis last week!
Seven hundred attendees from the U.S, Austria, Switzerland, and the Dominican Republic gathered in Memphis last week for the Autonomous Mobile Robots & Logistics Conference. The two-day conference focused on bridging logistics with automation and featured 60 exhibitors representing the entire ecosystem of warehouse automation providers – mobile robots, picking arms, 3D vision software developers, system integrators, and financing professionals.
The robots aren’t coming. The robots are here. So who is going to run them?
That was the topic of discussion between Erik Nieves, CEO of Plus One Robotics, and Shannon A. Brown, SVP of U.S. Operations Eastern Division and Chief Diversity Officer of FedEx Express. The two engaged in a compelling conversation about workforce development and building the talent pipeline — in this era of automation hypergrowth, topics around training and retraining are more important than ever.
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) have seen astronomical growth in warehouse automation, with AMRs set to surpass the million mark in 2026. If this were a sci-fi book, that might mean fully automated warehouses with one or two humans drinking coffee in a control room somewhere. But in reality, more robots equates to more required support, and the question of ROI looms top of mind for decision-makers bringing in these changes.
More robots = more jobs for humans
It doesn’t make as good a story as Hollywood might like, but the reality that Nieves and Brown agreed upon was that there would be two critical areas where facilities employing automation would need to focus on staffing:
- Robot operation and management
Increased automation in the warehouse means more people to operate and manage the robots as well as maintain network security. This drives a need for roles in cybersecurity, project management, and Crew Chiefing. If a robot in the field gets confused about what to pick, it asks for help from a human operator, or Crew Cheif.
The trained robot operator can get the robot going again, remotely, and can operate many robots at once.
2. Robot repair and maintenance
The logistics industry has lots of capable technologists, but most maintenance departments are already stretched too thin maintaining all the conveyors and troubleshooting the sorters and the barcode scanners. When you scale technology, you need more technologists.
How do you find talented experts to manage and repair your robots?
Shannon Brown recommends building your talent pipeline by looking in places rich with talent and potentially outside the scope of traditional searches: HBCUs, technical vocational schools, women/minorities/veterans, and underserved communities.
They shared that there are now over 1500 schools in the US & Canada that offer industrial robotics in their curricula, so there is a good chance that there is a school near the warehouse that is already training local talent.
In addition to scouting within these rich talent pools, remove barriers to work by providing transportation, and investing in training and development. Not only will this kind of initiative increase your labor resources, but it will help future-proof your team.
We’re Collaborating with Locus Robotics on a Robot Arm to AMR System
During the conference, we announced a new collaboration with Locus Robotics to develop an automated picking solution combining mobile robots and stationary picking arms. This multimodal system supports operators across a range of warehouse tasks performed in eCommerce fulfillment, distribution centers, and parcel operations. With new SKUs entering the mix daily, robot arms equipped with Plus One’s 3D and AI software continuously learn to recognize new package shapes and types. The robot arms successfully load/unload goods onto Locus AMRs. Together, these robot systems are reliable, flexible, and offer unparalleled scalability.
The innovative, cross-platform robotic system will boost productivity in eCommerce fulfillment centers by delivering higher fulfillment volumes and lower operations costs to efficiently meet exploding fulfillment volumes.
Visitors to the Plus One Robotics booth at the AMR show got to see Yonder in action. Yonder is the original Human-in-the-Loop remote supervisor software suite for robotic applications. If you are waiting for “lights out” automation to solve your changing supply chain needs, you may wait forever. Yonder provides the “missing middle” to bridge the technology gap today.
Yonder keeps the human in the loop but elevates them so their job requires high-level decision making instead of rote manual labor, and a happy side result is lower staff turnover and higher job satisfaction.
Missed the Show?
If you didn’t make it to Memphis, but want to learn more about building a healthy labor supply network in your community or find out how Locus and Plus One can deploy a scalable, precision application for your warehouse operations, get in touch today! And if you’d like to see Yonder in action, we have demos set up nationwide and in several countries, thanks to our network of system integrators. Contact us here for more information.