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23.07.2020 

Can warehouse automation get along with your workforce?

As warehouse automation continues to gain momentum in supply chain, what sort of impact can we expect for the workforce? 

As warehouse automation continues to gain momentum in supply chain, what sort of impact can we expect for the workforce? With workers and automation both responsible for moving materials, it can be difficult to nail down the relationship between them. To gain a better perspective, we conducted a survey to see if we could get to the center of labor and automation. 

As a result, we have published two industry reports: 

Here’s a sample of the first report, but feel free to use the link above to access the material in full. Both of these reports support our Master Class Series, which covers some of the top supply chain and logistics topics today. 

Putting Automation into Play

As labor shortages persist, warehouse automation is on the rise. In fact, 49 percent of supply chain professionals report that they will add automation within the next five years. While some warehouse employees may view automation as a threat to their job security, that’s rarely the case. With the right technology in place, warehouse management teams can elevate their productivity and take their operations to new heights.

Our survey found that 41 percent of supply chain professionals said they still use spreadsheets for manual data entry. While manual data entry can certainly be effective, it introduces the potential for data logging errors. Even without inaccuracies in data entry, employees must spend hours meticulously entering data — a process that is often as monotonous as it is time-consuming. Many warehouses also use manual processes for receiving, storing, picking, packing, and shipping to customers. As employees pour their efforts into these tedious tasks, speed, accuracy, and customer satisfaction rates plummet in tandem with employee engagement.  

This is where automation comes into play. Automation and robotics technologies, including palletizers, sortation systems, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), and more are designed to move materials throughout a warehouse, pick and put away products, and refill shelves as needed. Other warehouse technologies include process-oriented automation software that leverages scanners, barcodes, and more to streamline the data collection and integration process. 

Combined, these technologies help supply chain leaders address labor gaps while allowing frontline employees to do their jobs efficiently and effectively, freeing up time for more value-add work. 

Cultivating the Perfect Partnership

The future of warehouse management is not about choosing between humans and warehouse automation — it’s about combining the two. In fact, many robots are specifically designed with human-machine collaboration in mind. Businesses need employees on the warehouse floor who can work with these new technologies, troubleshooting technical issues and serving as machine operators and specialists. 

With the right warehouse automation and supply chain robotics by their side, employees can spend more time on challenging, thought-provoking tasks, and less time on monotonous or dangerous ones.

Keeping Warehouse Workers Safe

When executives invest in warehouse automation, they invest in the safety of their employees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports approximately 5.1 recorded illnesses and injuries per 100 warehouse workers each year, meaning hundreds of thousands of lives are impacted by job-related accidents annually.  

Automation and supply chain robotics can help address a wide range of safety hazards, including lifting injuries, falls, and worker fatigue. With AMRs, workers no longer have to move heavy pallets, reach items on high warehouse shelves, or repeatedly walk long distances in a high-traffic environment to retrieve a product. These tasks and more are not only dangerous — they’re exhausting. Exhaustion alone is enough to put workers’s health and safety in jeopardy as attention spans falter and safety procedures are overlooked.

Employees who believe that their personal safety is valued by leaders are happier at work and, as a result, more productive. According to the American Psychological Association, more than 90 percent of employees who feel valued at work say they are motivated to do their best, while 88 percent report feeling more engaged. 

To learn more about the role of automation in the warehouse, read our new report, Warehouse Automation & Labor — Friend or Foe?

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