Getting started with warehouse automation
The pandemic-related increase in demand for directly shipped products has packing and fulfillment centers working at levels previously only seen during the holiday peak season. This has led to challenges for smaller companies that are now in competition with some of the largest and most sophisticated e-commerce brands in the world. How do these smaller businesses compete for labor with the Amazons of the world in crowded warehouse and fulfillment locations? Their options are limited: they can build in other locations, raise their wages (and in turn, their price), or automate.
Automation is the best solution, but it isn’t the only one.
Unlike their counterparts in the manufacturing industry, which have been automating for decades, managers tasked with introducing automation in the warehouse are typically onboarding the very first robots. Understandably, this can feel risky. However, if that risk is managed well, automation will deliver powerful efficiencies and scalability.
There are cases where Artificial Intelligence (AI) was brought in to solve a problem and instead, it led to further problems. The most extreme example was probably Uber’s self-driving car accident, but there have been others, such as the 2020 incident in China’s Fuzhou Zhongfang Wanbaocheng Mall where a robot navigated to the top of an escalator and then tumbled down, knocking over shoppers in its path. In both examples, the AI was not the problem. The real issue was that in both cases the AI encountered an exception it had not been trained to handle. And without guidance, it made the best choice available to it, with disastrous results.
The key to successful automation is something you already have: humans.
Simply adding a robot to your workflows won’t get you to ROI and not every human warehouse job is right for automation.
In the right position, a robot will perform well most of the time with no human intervention. Imagine a packing robot that encounters new packaging on a previously familiar product. Exceptions like this are common situations that differ from what the robot was trained to handle that lead to suboptimal results. Luckily, fast, accurate solutions can help companies move quickly through a pilot stage quickly by relaying throughput metrics that meet business goals and deliver ROI.
Plus One Robotics Keys to Automation Success
- Look for teams that perform the same tasks: The hardest thing to do is go from one to zero people per shift. There is a much greater success rate by automating a percentage of the work so that two people per shift can now manage the work of four people per shift.
- Partial labor offset: Seeking to implement automation to offset a portion of a job, instead of taking over the entire job, is a best practice. The most successful automations are in operations where managers are aiming to reduce their required workforce instead of looking to replace entire roles.
- Robots work. People Rule: This is our mantra at Plus One Robotics. The warehouse is fundamentally a different problem than manufacturing. Manufacturing thousands of the same items over and over is a speed and precision problem. Fulfillment is an exception handling and speed problem. Eighty percent of the effort to complete a solution is expended on getting the last ten percent of the exception. Our unique approach of connecting automation with remotely connected Crew Chiefs is a magic bullet in going from pilot to production
Warehouse Robot Quick Deployment Program
Onboarding your first robot associate feels like a big step. We have walked this road before and our team is made up of industry veterans that have been deploying robots since the 1990s.
We offer a 12-week trial period that lets you try a robot in your facility to find out if automation is the right solution—without the costs of long term commitments.
- Contract a robot with no commitment to buy at the end of the trial
- Engage Plus One Robotics to identify the parts of your operation best suited for automation
- Review your overall automation strategy with an expert team to decide how to move forward
- Work with our experienced implementation team to onboard the technology and integrate it into your existing architecture
- Enjoy 24-hour support and the security of knowing you have a team of experts at your disposal for guidance
If you’re interested in automation and how it can improve your throughput goals, learn more about our Quick Deployment Program below to get started!
Author: David Scheffrahn, Robotics Expert
“We see automation as an opportunity to enhance our team members’ jobs, make them more comfortable and easy, and above all, as safe as possible. Incorporating this robotic installation at the Memphis hub has given team members the opportunity to take on additional tasks within the operations.” –Aaron Prather, Head of Robotics, FedEx