of online orders to meet consumer demands for quick deliveries, which has exposed the urgent need to integrate automated warehouse solutions to maximize operational productivity and efficiency. With the holiday shopping seasonnearing, retail DCs are nearing another annual peak that willstress operations.
The introduction of robotic technologies provides a solution to the problems at hand to help maximize operationalefficiency, increase productivity, and fill in where manualworkers aren’t present in the warehouse. Robotic solutionscan integrate data science to provide quick decision-makingand take charge of monotonous tasks so manual labor can focus on more challenging assignments.
There are several types of robotic and automated solutionsthat can help retail DCs simultaneously keep pace with thegrowing e-commerce demands while also turning around thelabor shortages:
AUTONOMOUS MOBILE ROBOTS (AMRS)
In manual DC operations there’s inefficiency in transportworkflows. Autonomous mobile robots fix that by deployingworkers to where they are needed, thus maximizing productivity and efficiency. In retail distribution centers AMRs areadded into the control systems, giving the robots the abilityto construct their own paths around the warehouse. The robots’ sensors allow them to recognize and navigate their environment to accurately execute assignments. Autonomousmobile robots are agile, with the ability to self-maneuveraround obstacles on the warehouse floor, such as lift trucks,debris, or racks.
At the end of the day, the support that AMRs bring tomanual workers in the warehouse is crucial to success andsignificantly increases productivity and efficiency in transport workflows.
The U.S. economy is currently in a high-pressure la- bor market, and warehouses and distribution centers (DCs) are feeling the squeeze. From workers agingout of the workforce, complications from the pandemic, naturally high turnover rates and intense competition, DCs arein a seemingly endless battle for laborers despite increasingwages and sweetening benefit packages.
Adding to the labor problem is that 80% of DCs primarily operate with a manual workforce. Previously, warehouses were blessed with a large and cheap labor pool, allowingthem to relegate tasks such as picking, packing, sorting andoperating forklifts to humans. The current labor shortage hashighlighted the differences between manually operated DCsand those that have integrated automated solutions that havebeen able to keep up with growing e-commerce demands.
EXAMINING THE LABOR CHALLENGE
Today’s DC labor shortage isn’t unexpected—it was predicted more than a decade ago due to baby boomers, whohave long made up most of the workforce, rapidly approaching retirement age. These predictions are now coming to fruition as workers aging out of roles become a leading cause ofthe high turnover rates, which is drastically impactingthe economy. In fact, the number of Americans retiring daily has nearly doubled since the year 2000.Currently, roughly 10,000 people turn 65 each day,the standard age for retirement.
As baby boomers are moving to less physically demanding jobs, younger generations are less willingand available to replace these roles in the warehousingindustry. The older generation also gained basic andapplied skills through their training and experience onthe job. In their absence, these workers are leaving asubstantial gap in specialized skillsets that will take along time for younger generations to recover.
While the challenge of aging employees was expected, COVID- 19 brought on an unfamiliar crisisfor employers, especially in the warehousing industry. Since the pandemic began, warehouses have beenfacing significant troubles finding labor. Unemployment benefits, fewer childcare options for parents,and fear of contracting the virus are only a handfulof reasons why individuals aren’t returning to work.
For years, retail DCs have tried to keep up with growinge-commerce demands. Prior to the pandemic, demandswere growing at an approximate rate of 25%. Followingthe pandemic, demands have grown an additional 50%.The pressure for DCs to succeed is at an all-time high,amid labor challenges that hinder warehouse operations.
PHU T TAPHA T TIPSANA | DREAMS TIME
Combating Labor Shortages with
AUTOMATED WAREHOUSE SOLUTIONS
Robotics are key to supportingDCs’ higher production volumesand maximizing operationalproductivity.
By Thomas H. Evans