Warehouse Automation: Can the Job of a Warehouse Worker be Performed by a Robot? - Becsi


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Warehouse Automation: Can the Job of a Warehouse Worker be Performed by a Robot?

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Fear Your Job

Warehouse Automation


Research by Deloitte and the University of Oxford predicts that the rise of technology could lead to the loss of nearly 11 million human jobs in the next 20 years. Manual work, such as that performed in a warehouse, is cited as being particularly at risk.


Such figures are bound to cause anxiety among warehouse workers, particularly when examples of full warehouse automation – such as the Marks & Spencer centre in Castle Donnington – continue to draw favourable news headlines.


Without doubt, the increased application of technology can help warehouse workers to complete tasks. But replace them entirely?


Looking many years into the future, rather than just the present, there remain some very significant barriers that should make most warehouse managers think twice about full automation.


1.       It can’t predict the future


In just the past year alone, online retail growth has grown by 15.8%, while 365 high street retailers closed down in the first half of 2014. This has led to a huge change in floor space requirements, increased need for express delivery, and the rise of reverse logistics.  All of which means new warehouse processes.


Going forward, predictions abound as to whether the e-commerce trend will rise or fall. Will Amazon’s high-street store concept take off and lead to the hyper-local warehouse? Or will mobile payments push us further towards a global, fragmented distribution centre?


2.       It lacks flexibility


Automation works best within fairly rigid, fixed processes with predictable throughput. The examples above show that such processes don’t really exist for most warehouses. We are seeing unprecedented SKU churn and the expected life span of any (consumer) product is shorter than ever in part due to volatility of trends and consumer demand.


What this means is that humans are required to intervene to add the necessary agility to address the non-conformity that fluctuating demand causes. Take the wrapping and storing of goods on pallets. Goods need to be uniformly arranged to enable effective automation. What if goods are mixed in a location, or on a pallet, become displaced or even fall from shelves? Correcting these abnormalities is still very much a manual task.


3.       It’s expensive


Most warehouse automation systems take five to ten years to achieve ROI. Can you be sure that what you need to automate now will still be the case in two years, let alone a decade? Realistically, most can’t.


Building human-technology collaboration


The ever-changing face of retail demands change in warehouse processes, that much is clear. But perhaps rather than full automation, warehouses can find a middle ground that makes the best of both human and machine capabilities.


Voice directed work aims to bridge this human-technology divide. Using headsets, the worker reads out details of each individual step of the job they are working on, checking off instructions as they go.


Darrel Williams, Regional Director at Honeywell Vocollect Solutions, comments “This type of working keeps staff agile and motivated, working to automated instructions yet able to adapt to new tasks quickly. It’s been shown to increase efficiency levels by 20 percent in many warehouses, with a proven accuracy rate of 99.98%. This combination of speed and accuracy allows businesses to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding retail environment without hedging all of their bets on full automation. Humans and technology both have their undoubted roles to play in the future of the warehouse. But to see real benefits in the long-term, it’s the complimentary skills, rather than the differences, where most attention should be applied.”

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