Every year, businesses face a warehousing crisis trying to fulfill the additional customer demand during the holiday period. The most traditional solution to this has always been the employment of temporary warehouse workers.
For the most part, employing more people on a temporary basis does alleviate the problem but it can often halt efficiency and create further problems for both permanent employees and the overall supply chain.
Whilst hiring temporary help does mean more bodies on the warehouse floor, companies often struggle to integrate temp staff with those already in the know. Temporary employees are unlikely to go out of their way to learn the ins and outs of the warehouse just for a couple of months’ work and even if they wanted to, that insider knowledge can take years to learn.
So, what’s the solution?
One solution being adopted by many larger companies is robotic integration and it’s an alternative that has other business heads turning too. Amazon is just one of the companies that have invested in a whole army of warehouse robots after they acquired Kiva Systems a few years ago.
This acquisition allowed them to reduce their need for temporary employees, whilst seamlessly integrating both their permanent and robotic workers.
Unfortunately, this route hasn’t always been affordable for every business, with many simply not having enough money to make the year-round investment. However, Bruce Welty, the Chairman of Quiet Logistics, is trying to change this. After seeing the benefit of warehouse robots but understanding the cost difficulties, he started up his own automation provider called Locus Robotics.
His vision is to provide more flexible, cost effective warehouse robots to logistics service providers, meaning that companies don’t have to make billion pound investments just to deal with seasonal rushes.
Whilst warehouse robots can perform a lot of the basic, day-to-day tasks humans undertake, they are still far from perfect. As things stand, they can’t handle the most intricate jobs that human brains can grasp, which is why the practice of humans and robots working side by side is taking off so spectacularly.
Robots have the benefit of speed and precision, meaning they can transport products from A to B relatively quickly. In contrast, human employees possess the advantage of a conscious mind, allowing them to multitask and pick specific products more effectively.
Traditionally, warehouse robots and human employees have worked separately, as a robot’s speed and size poses a potential hazard. However, Welty’s robots are far lighter, making them well suited to human interaction within the warehouse.
Whilst it might sound like it, the goal isn’t to eliminate human workers from warehouses. With large numbers of varied packages going to consumers all over the world, full automation simply isn’t an option.
In fact, many warehouses still find themselves struggling to fill positions in peak periods, meaning that warehouse robots could be exactly what businesses need to grow and improve their productivity.
Creating a harmonious relationship between manual labour and automation may very well be the key to a better future for supply chains across the globe.
For advice on improving your warehouse operations in 2017 talk to Total Logistics supply chain consultants.