Warehouses face continuing headwinds from e-commerce demand and labor shortages. Automation has gradually gained acceptance as a way to improve efficiency throughout, while holding onto a finite workforce with better working conditions. Recently, however, rising inflation and recession fears have put many automation projects on hold, even as employee churn rates remain alarmingly high.
Many operators, considering software-based optimization solutions which, when layered onto warehouse management or other enterprise software systems, orchestrate and optimize pick, putaway, replenishment, sortation, slotting and other activities to speed and simplify workflow without any physical changes needed to an existing facility.
Apart from efficiency improvements and cost savings, optimization is critical in helping warehouses cope with a shrinking workforce. The rise of omnichannel e-commerce, with more and smaller time-definite shipments, multiple delivery options and exacting customer expectations, has extended shift hours and added physical and mental stress to the job. Older workers have opted for retirement; younger workers, in a market with 11 million job openings and 4% unemployment, have choices and are not answering warehouse job postings, even for higher pay, better benefits and incentives.
Existing workers tell surveys they’re willing to stay in their jobs for at least three years, but they also say they’d quit to take a job with a company providing more and better technology to help them meet performance goals and minimize errors and duplication. Three in four complain of overexertion and physical strain from travel in the warehouse, which eats up nearly 40% of an on-floor worker’s day. Opinions are mixed on installation of robots, over fears of redundancy, increased quotas, loss of autonomy and safety.
Two consultants on warehouse automation and robotics explain the benefits of software-based systems, either on their own or augmented with robots, and why warehouse workers may welcome automation.
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