Finding Answers to the Warehouse Labor Challenge
Before the pandemic, warehouse and facility operators handled supply chain peaks and surges in demand by hiring seasonal or temporary workers. Bringing on seasonal workforces helped to achieve minor improvements in productivity and were sufficient to deal with expected spikes in demand around Black Friday and the festive run-in, but the ramp-up time for hiring and training additional associates wasn’t sustainable and put stress on the warehouse operator. The pandemic, however, brought a year-round increase in orders with a reduction in worker availability.
Increasing costs are an unwelcome burden for any business, and aren’t easily absorbed. With the increase in spending to meet labor needs, the warehouse operator is forced to either increase the price of items paid by the customer or consider cheaper, and more sustainable solutions.
Whilst the onset – and subsequent impact – of the pandemic could not have been predicted, the shrinking labor pool has been a known issue. To that end, warehouse operators look for ways to support their existing associates, enable them to enhance their contributions, and increase overall warehouse and warehouse associate productivity.
Automation and warehouse labor challenges
The warehouse managers that had concerns about the ever-shrinking labor pool had the foresight to look for sustainable solutions. They found a beneficial, but limited, solution in early automation, but advances in technology have been rapid and the array of automated fulfillment solutions has grown considerably in the last decade.
The range of automated fulfillment solutions varies from fixed infrastructure options such as conveyors, to alternatives such as robotics, which can be easier to scale and more flexible.
Investment in automated robotics solutions is now ramping up and accelerating as proof of concepts over the last few years have proven successful and impactful. The facilities that had the foresight to move to robotics systems saw the benefits of their vision pay off during the pandemic with order fulfillment matching escalating levels of demand.
Those lacking foresight, including the facilities planning to introduce automation but not for some time, were the ones that struggled with the pandemic. Playing catch-up meant accelerating investment decisions. Therefore, plans to automate processes were fast-tracked so upgrades could be made straight away, and the technology installed to enable the productivity improvements that could keep pace with growing order volumes.
According to the 2021 MHI survey 49% of supply chain leaders have accelerated investment in digital technologies to increase their operational responsiveness over the course of the pandemic.
The same report concludes that the adoption of robotics and automation will double in the next five years as supply chain leaders look to improve the efficiency of their operations as a contingency to future uncertainties and to maintain operational effectiveness.
Implementing an effective automated solution, such as robotics will help to lower future reliance on temporary labor as a means of fulfillment, while improving the productivity of an existing workforce 2-3X.
For more information on solving the Warehouse Labor Challenge, read Locus Robotics’ latest eBook – Robotics: The Answer to Your Warehouse Labor Challenges.