Robotics are increasingly being used to improve warehouse production
Warehouses are experimenting with innovative new automation solutions, and robotics is coming out on top. A recent study found that investment in warehouse robotics increased by a staggering 57% in the first quarter of 2020. This is a clear indication of where the warehouse automation industry is going.
While Industry 4.0 has been setting in for a few years now, robotics for automation stepped into the mainstream during 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many warehouses to consider new technology for meeting demand while working with fewer employees at once.
Robotics is perfect for this. The technology has developed extensively over recent years, bolstered by advancements in AI and the Internet of Things. Modern warehouse robots can identify specific objects, move pallets, shelve items, navigate specific routes through warehouses and much more. They can drastically reduce physical strain on employees as well as time spent locating, picking and packing items.
Warehouse automation strategists are quickly discovering the benefits of robotics for increasing turnaround time while reducing costs.
Employee Quality of Life
Some may be surprised to hear that robotics can improve the daily work experience of human employees. A running theme in automation is that robots will take over people’s jobs one day. Quite the opposite is turning out to be true, though. Warehouse robots have proven to be highly useful for creating a better work environment for human team members, allowing businesses to perform better overall and thrive.
One of the top benefits of robotics in warehouse automation is drastically increased safety. When robots help run things, opportunities for human error decrease as well as the risks of other potential hazards, such as equipment failure. Tasks such as moving heavy items or retrieving products from high shelves can be done by robots instead of people.
Giving risky tasks like these to machines helps reduce workplace accidents and injuries and allows employees to feel safer on the job. When fewer injuries occur on-site, costs spent on employees’ medical and first-aid needs go down while productivity increases.
Additionally, robots are highly useful for creating a flexible, employee-first workplace. Autonomous warehouse robots have been identified as a key way to fill in any gaps left by unfilled jobs or labor shortages. It can be especially challenging to find people who want to work the night shift, and everyone needs a break from work sometimes. It is much easier to accommodate ideal hours for employees without sacrificing productivity or efficiency when warehouse robots are part of the team.
Robots can work 24/7, keeping things moving even when no one is on shift. Automation robotics can be applied to repetitive or time-consuming tasks so peak activity hours can be used more efficiently. This will give turnaround time a boost.
Positive Environmental Impact
One trend that exploded in popularity in 2020 was sustainability. Research by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that sustainable goods have risen in popularity by 71% over the last five years. Consumers are more aware than ever of the environmental impact of everything they buy and use, from the materials the product is made of to how it was packaged and shipped. Warehouses have an important role to play in meeting this demand for sustainability.
The benefits of increasing sustainability go well beyond good publicity, though. Automated warehouses help the environment by reducing energy consumption and waste production, both of which also help facilities save money and increase turnaround.
For example, if robots are used to pick and pack orders before shipment, the likelihood of an incorrect order significantly decreases. After all, a robot is far less likely to misread a barcode than a human is. When customers receive the product they ordered, the probability of requesting a replacement or exchange decreases, which lowers the need for additional packaging usage.
Likewise, packaging supplies handled by robots are less likely to be damaged in the warehouse. All this decreases waste, improves the customer experience and saves warehouses money.
Automated warehouses may require less space than those fully staffed by human employees. While robots do consume power themselves, automated facilities can have lower energy demands because they are smaller spaces, have little to no heating demands and have fewer spaces that need to be well-lit. Additionally, the sheer efficiency of robotics ensures power won’t be wasted on long travel times or unproductive work methods, making every penny of the energy budget count.
Improved Customer Experience
One of the top advantages of automation is increased productivity. This results in a quicker turnaround time on orders, which leads to faster shipping and happier customers. Research has shown that speedy shipping is becoming the standard worldwide, with one- and two-day deliveries becoming increasingly popular. This may have been set by Amazon’s famously fast turnaround times, but warehouses don’t need sprawling facilities or teams of thousands of workers to match that speed. Automation is the key to achieving quick shipping rates by boosting efficiency and productivity.
Another customer benefit that also benefits warehouses and businesses is profits gained by increased productivity. Automation has been proven to boost productivity, and there are countless ways to achieve this with robotics. Higher productivity and efficiency allow warehouses to do more with less time, opening the door to new opportunities and higher profits. They could ship out more products per day or add a new product line to the warehouse. Whatever the case, automation can help businesses make the most of their time and money while providing more for their customers.
Automation can also help warehouses build resilience against unexpected outside factors that could impact the supply chain. The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of this. With the health of human employees at risk, warehouses were forced to reduce operations or shut down entirely. The timing of this was far less than ideal since everyone became more reliant on mail-ordered items due to widespread lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.
Automation can help warehouses prepare for events like this. Many warehouse owners and managers realized robotics’ potential and their necessity during emergencies. Warehouses that are fortified against the unexpected with the help of robotics will be able to provide consumers with the goods they need, no matter the circumstances.
The Future of Warehouse Robotics
Robotics is a field that will only continue to grow in the years and decades to come. The incredible advancements made in robotics, AI, and IoT are proof enough and hint at the potential that technology has to improve the workplace. Warehouses are at the center of global commerce, and every innovation made to the industry benefits businesses, employees and consumers around the globe.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world. She has over four years experience writing articles in the industrial and tech sectors.