Mythbusting: The Most Common Beliefs About Warehouse Automation are WRONG
By Brent Barcey, Vice President of Business Development
As a veteran of the robotics industry, I’ve heard every argument around when it comes to automation in the warehouse and fulfillment industries. I’ve worked with just about every kind of hardware solution and spoken with most of the big systems integrators in the space. I came to Plus One Robotics convinced that their solution and philosophy is the only one that will work in the long run.
That’s because people drive Plus One’s solution. Yonder is a world-class remote management solution for warehouse automation, and while I’m a huge fan of robots, they just don’t work without humans. Think about this for a moment: Imagine you have five fulfillment stations, with robot arms picking orders to ship. Let’s say most robots are right on target ninety-nine percent of the time, running into an exception that stumps them only one percent of the time. When a robot hits an exception, it stops. It has to wait until the floor supervisor can come solve the issue, and then it’s back on track. Let’s say each exception costs the station ten minutes. During a twelve-hour shift, five stations times ten minutes per hour comes out to six hundred minutes of downtime. That’s ten hours of idle time, and as you know, that’s not really time. It’s money.
Yonder puts a human on call, and the second a robot runs into an exception, the remote Crew Chief sees on screen what the robot is seeing, and directs it where to pick, getting the robot back to work in seconds. This solution solves the single biggest problem facing warehouse automation, and it’s why we say Robots Work. People Rule.
But as people consider automation, I often hear them bring up other issues. Let’s look at some of the perceived problems.
Myth 1: Automating my warehouse will cost my employees their jobs
As the Yonder example above shows, humans have to be part of the equation when we’re planning a successful automation project. But to address this concern fully, let’s look at what humans in warehouses typically do. Depalletizing, for instance. It’s a physically demanding job, one that puts stresses on the body through repetitive motion and heavy lifting. Done over a period of hours, through a span of weeks or months, it’s simply not sustainable. Humans aren’t built for that kind of hard, repetitive work. But robot arms are, and if we automate the most physically demanding and repetitive tasks, that frees up the human workers to apply critical thinking skills to more mentally challenging tasks. Warehouses often suffer turnover rates as high as two hundred percent, a very clear sign that something isn’t working right with the status quo. Automation with supervised autonomy allows humans to move to value-add positions in the warehouse while robots do the dull, dirty and dangerous work.
Automating won’t cost workers their jobs, in fact, it stands to create more.
New research shows that he three highest growth warehouse jobs in the US and Europe are picking (G2P)*, packing, and conveyor induction. Taken as a whole, these three sectors represented 17% of all warehouse roles in 2019 (over 693,000 jobs), but this figure will be 21% by 2024 (over 1,000,000 jobs) – a CAGR of 9.3%. –Interact Analysis market research
Myth 2: Robots are expensive and I can’t justify the cost
Demonstrating ROI is a challenge every manager will face when proposing an automation project. Luckily, when done right, the numbers are in your favor.
Plus One has made it easy to “try out” an automation project with our Onboard Your First Robot Associate Program. Customers can try a robot risk-free for twelve weeks with full technical and service support every step of the way. We’ll help you identify performance metrics that matter to your business during the onboarding so you can demonstrate the full benefits across your internal departments.
Myth 3: My warehouse isn’t big enough to accommodate robots
Space is always a concern, and with warehouses operating at peak levels one hundred percent of the time, it’s no surprise that floor supervisors are seeking ways to save square footage and hesitant to spend it. This concern is easy though. Robots don’t require the same kind of space human workers do. They don’t mind cramped quarters and they don’t require natural light or easy access to the coffee machine. Additionally, robots end up buying back real estate because they move packages out faster than humans can.
The Next Steps
My biggest advice to those considering automation is to start small. Look for the easy wins when it comes to which jobs to automate. Plus One begins any engagement with an automation audit, and nine times out of ten, the audit reveals a project that wasn’t the one the customer had in mind to be the lowest-hanging fruit. When you’re just getting started, the key is to choose something that can be installed quickly, get implemented quickly into existing systems, and help with throughput immediately.
The hard truth is that there is not enough labor in the United States to keep up with warehouse demand. You don’t have to be Amazon or Walmart to benefit from automation in your fulfillment strategy, and the businesses that are positioning themselves for the long term are designing those strategies now. Let us help you by identifying the parts of your workflow that can benefit from automation.
Find out more about our Onboard Your First Robot Associate program. We’ll identify the best place to begin automation in your operation and customize a risk-free solution for you to try for twelve weeks. Contact Brent Barcey today at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss an automation audit or find out more.