Empowering Warehouse Automation: The Science of Balancing Manpower and Robotics

Asian man doing storage room inventory with laptop, organizing merchandise in boxes on shelves. Young adult working in storehouse space to plan order shipment, products distribution

Ninaad Acharya

Co-founder and CEO

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Automation has revolutionized various industries, and warehousing is no exception. Its adoption has transformed the way goods are selected, stored, and shipped in the warehouse sector. Additionally, the integration of advanced robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has substantially boosted production and operational efficiency for businesses. 

“Having something technology, like computer vision… that can just like call it out and, and pinpoint those events to you, I think is a huge thing for operations.” 

– Kevin Lawton, Founder of The New Warehouse

Projections indicate that between 2015 and 2030, the global economy could witness the creation of 250 to 280 million fresh job opportunities and a remarkable $23 trillion surge in global consumption. But hold on, there’s a flip side – automation might shuffle around 400 to 800 million job roles by 2030. 

Now, here’s the twist. Despite these predictions, joblessness seems to be taking a backseat as unemployment hits rock bottom. It’s like automation’s disrupting the stage, but it’s not kicking anyone out of the performance. Instead, technology is boosting productivity. 

The secret formula for business growth boils down to one thing: that sweet spot where automation strikes the right balance with manpower. 

Why is Automation Necessary?

Why is automation not just a trend but a necessity? The answers lie in the transformative benefits it brings to warehousing. From cost savings and error reduction to improved workforce engagement and supply chain transparency, automation serves as a strategic enabler of streamlined operations and future-ready supply chains. 

1. Cost Savings

Automation raises production and efficiency, which eventually lowers expenses. Automating certain duties allows you to leverage your current personnel effectively, leading to increased productivity without additional labor.  

It also reduces: 

  • Human error 
  • Minimizing product waste 
  • Improving on-time, full delivery to clients.  

This saves time on costly rework, providing more opportunities for value-added tasks across all workforce levels.

“Technology implementation from a labor standpoint is absolutely critical to keep the overall cost down. Again, it’s not, jobs are just shifting to other arenas, so it’s not taking jobs away per se, but that’s a driving factor.” 

– Ninaad Acharya, Cofounder and CEO at Fulfillment IQ 

2. Streamlined Processes

Supply chain automation shifts employees’ focus from time-consuming tasks like documentation, order processing, slot allocation, and invoice payments to jobs requiring human interaction. 

Automation streamlines these tasks, enabling quicker completion and allowing human workers to address more critical issues.

“Now the inflection point a little bit where the cost and the what initially or a couple of years ago the barrier to entry would’ve been the overall cost of putting in some of these solutions has come way down and companies have figured out a way to do, like robots as a service and all these different things to allow like those smaller, medium-sized players to start to get into the automation.” 

– Kevin Lawton, Founder of The New Warehouse 

3. Boost in Morale

Automating repetitive tasks can free up a person’s time so they can focus on tough, creative, or strategic duties. Automation contributes to stronger employee retention, engaged workforces, and cohesive teams in this way. 

4. Improved Supply Chain Transparency

Supply chain visibility requires work, communication, and dedication from all involved parties. Digital automation facilitates real-time information recording and updates, enabling efficient inventory tracking, rapid communication, and bottleneck identification for smoother operations. 

“We had SVT robotics on, and companies like that and warehouse orchestration companies and things like that are making it just super easy to not only bring in like one solution but multiple solutions to communicate with each other and make it very easy for the integration.” 

– Kevin Lawton, Founder of The New Warehouse 

The Indispensable Role of Human Skills in Warehousing: Why Workforce Matters? 

While automation offers immense advantages, the irreplaceable value of human presence in warehousing cannot be overlooked. Human skills like critical thinking, adaptability, emotional intelligence, creativity, and the ability to handle complexity bring a distinct edge to the warehouse environment. The nuanced decision-making capacity and adaptability of human employees are crucial in dealing with unique situations that automated systems may struggle with. 

1. Human judgement and adaptability

Human employees have the capacity for critical thought, nuanced decision-making, and situational flexibility. They can deal with unusual or non-standard situations that automated systems would find difficult.

2. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a skill that human employees can offer that is essential in consumer interactions, particularly in e-commerce or customer support professions.

3. Creativity and Innovation

The creativity and inventive ideas that human workers bring to the warehouse environment are crucial for optimizing workflows and ongoing process improvement. This cannot exactly be replicated by machines.  

4. Handling Complexity

It might be difficult for robots to mimic the dexterity and sensitivity of human touch, which is needed for some tasks like handling fragile or irregularly shaped objects. 

 
Simply put, the human touch in the warehouse environment adds certain qualities and abilities that robots cannot duplicate. Human employees are endowed with critical judgement, flexibility, and problem-solving abilities that are essential in managing unusual circumstances. I 

In consumer contacts, especially in eCommerce or customer support roles, their emotional intelligence is crucial. Additionally, human invention and creativity help to streamline processes and enhance workflows.  

Last but not least, managing intricate activities involving delicate or oddly shaped things requires human skill and sensibility. A successful and well-rounded warehouse operation will definitely result from embracing both automation and the human touch. 

“Some end up making them a long-term career, but as a picker, packer, loader, etc., that’s kind of the segment you play with, and that population pool is decreasing year by year, fortunately. The replacement rate is still there, but not as much as it used to be. So, I think there are a lot of factors that are actually driving the innovation within the robotics space.” 

– Ninaad Acharya, Cofounder and CEO at Fulfillment IQ 

 

Mastering Automation: How To Strike The Balance Between Workforce and Robotics For Maximum Efficiency

In this era of technological innovation, discovering the sweet spot between human creativity and automated precision is like finding the secret recipe for exceptional efficiency. 

1. Evaluation and Plan

Determine which processes can be automated. Prioritize repetitive, time-consuming, and rule-based jobs because not all tasks can be automated. 

Clearly define your objectives, key performance indicators (KPIs), and anticipated results in your automation approach. 

To what extent will humans and robots participate in the automated workflow, decide. Specify how the two will work together to guarantee maximum effectiveness.

2. Process Improvement

Ensure that your current procedures are optimized before implementing automation. To ensure optimal effectiveness, streamline operations, eliminate bottlenecks, and standardize processes. 

Identify places where the use of robots can be made better. Look for duties that demand a lot of consistency, precision, or physical work. 

3. Find Opportunities for Automation

Examine the technological viability and economic viability of automating particular tasks. Depending on the technology available and the financial limitations, some operations may be more suitable for automation than others. 

Place a higher priority on tasks that can be automated for greater efficiency and accuracy, while ensuring that complicated tasks and decisions that are of the utmost importance are left to human workers. 

“The space that we’re in seems to be on some of like the cutting-edge of technology and not necessarily. Initially inventing that technology, but initially giving it a practical, useful application.” 

– Kevin Lawton, Founder of The New Warehouse 

4. Workforce Upskilling and Training

Invest in thorough training programs to give the current workforce the ability to work alongside automation. This may entail managing automated operations, troubleshooting robotic systems, and understanding them. 

Encourage an environment where employees are constantly acquiring new skills and taking on new responsibilities as automation becomes more incorporated into warehouse operations. 

Create specialized training programs in cooperation with educational institutions and career training facilities to prepare people for jobs involving automation technology. 

5. Promote a Collaborative Work Culture

Create an environment at work that is welcoming and encourages collaboration between humans and robots. Insist on the premise that automation is improving rather than replacing workers’ skills and experiences. 

Participate in decision-making with your staff as you implement automation. Ask them for advice on how automation may most effectively complement their workflow and pinpoint any potential problems. 

Establish open channels of communication between management and the workers to discuss any issues or suggestions regarding automation. 

6. Addressing Concerns About Job Replacement

Be open and honest about the goals driving automation and how it will affect the workforce. Clearly explain the company’s plans and reassure employees that their jobs are secure. 

Aid and train workers moving into new positions or divisions. This can involve lateral job chances within the company, reskilling courses, or career counselling. 

During the transition time, establish a just and humane approach to personnel management, taking into account possibilities like voluntary early retirement packages or phased automation installation. 

7. Continuous Assessment and Improvement

Evaluate the effectiveness of automation and its effects on warehouse operations on a regular basis. Utilize data analytics to pinpoint areas that need improvement and perfect the automated procedures to conform to corporate goals. 

Encourage both human employees and automated technology to provide feedback in order to spot possible bottlenecks or areas that need human intervention. 

Keep up with the most recent developments in automation technologies and how they might improve staff and warehouse productivity. 

8. Integrate Cobots Instead of Replacing Jobs

Many cobots increase productivity rather than removing or replacing a human worker.  

For instance, to automate stock counting, shelf replenishment, and price tagging and free up human staff for customer service and sales, retail establishments use cobots as inventory assistants. 

 
Robots and cobots are widely used in industrial settings, including as factories and warehouses, though this is not their only application. Think creatively; you might generate the next breakthrough in collaborative robot invention. 
 

Finding the ideal ratio of automation to labor in a warehouse setting is a complex challenge that calls for a strategic approach. Companies may achieve the best human-robot interaction by carefully selecting activities for automation, investing in workforce training and upskilling, promoting a collaborative work environment, addressing concerns about job displacement, and regularly reviewing and optimizing processes.  

This well-balanced strategy will increase productivity and efficiency and promote a successful coexistence of human touch and automated technologies in the warehouse sector.

Need to Find the Right Balance Between Automation and Labor In Your Warehouse?

In the dynamic landscape of warehouse management, striking the perfect harmony between automation and human effort is a journey worth embarking on. Balancing these elements is the cornerstone of efficient operations. Navigating this path necessitates a blend of strategic thinking and hands-on execution. If you’re seeking to optimize your warehouse’s potential through the synergy of automation and labor, we’re here to guide you. Connect with us and let’s work together to unravel the true potential of your warehouse.

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Ninaad Acharya

Co-founder and CEO

Contributors

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