When people hear the words “warehouse automation,” they tend to think of lost jobs and a robotic workforce. That is simply not the case. For warehouse automation to be effective and efficient, human workers must be prioritized and recognized for the vital leadership role they play in the warehouse environment. In fact, an automated warehouse can make for more successful and happier employees.
As more industrial workplaces and warehouses look into the benefits of automation, some of the biggest perks are seen in the outcomes for workers. Here are five ways that warehouse automation is a win for the workforce.
- Improved Safety
Unfortunately, workplace accidents can happen. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), fatal incidents occur more frequently in the warehouse setting than in other workplaces. Some common hazards include forklift mishaps, improper stacking of pallets, failure to use proper safety equipment and failure to follow proper safety procedures.
But one of the key benefits of automation is improved safety for the human worker. A robotics solution, including robotic forklifts, takes people out of harm’s way on the job. While it might be costly if an automated robot was damaged on the job, it is nothing compared to physical and emotional toll a human incident could take on your company.
- Quality Over Quantity
Speaking of workplace injury, one of the most common injuries on the job come from repetitive motion. Constantly lifting, stacking or sorting for 40 hours a week can do serious harm to the human body.
With an automated warehouse, many of these repetitive tasks can be given to machines or robotics. This frees up human workers to focus on more innovative and enjoyable value-added tasks. And because an automated solution is often capable of doing repetitive jobs faster and more efficiently, this can be great for productivity as well as workforce morale.
- Save More Jobs
It has actually been proven that warehouse automation can keep jobs from being displaced and therefore improve the layoff rate. According to Entrepreneur, major companies such as Evian, Accenture and Boxed saw zero layoffs following a robust automation initiative. Some even added to their workforce. How is this possible?
Because the automation solutions were used to empower the workforce. The various robotics solutions worked alongside and for the human employees, helping them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. When employees are productive, get to do work they enjoy and are learning new skills (in this case robotics), they are happier and more fulfilled in their jobs.
- Turn a Job Into a Career
With automated warehouse technology taking over the menial, repetitive tasks of traditional warehouses, the role of humans in the warehouse is changing. One of the primary perks of an automated warehouse is that people get to learn new, highly valued skills. What was at first a job with minimal room for growth can transform into a lifelong career.
- Reinvest in the Workforce
Yes, warehouse automation will require an investment. But it is also an investment in your operations, efficiencies and the future of your company. Many warehouses that invest in automation technologies see ROI in 12 months or less. With that added revenue, companies and warehouses can invest in the growth and professional development of their workers.
A McKinsey report showed that 62% of executives said they will have to retrain or replace 25% of their workforce by 2021 to work alongside automated processes. Finding that many well-trained workers would be nearly impossible, and companies are seeing the value in training their current workforce to use the robotics and automation technologies. They already know the business, the workflows, and are well versed in the product.
While estimating significant worldwide “productivity growth from automation” in the coming decades, the same McKinsey report also states the simple truth about warehouse automation – “Humans will still be needed in the workforce: the total productivity gains we estimate will only come about if people work alongside machines. That in turn will fundamentally alter the workplace, requiring a new degree of cooperation between workers and technology.”
Evan Hammersley is the Warehouse Automation and Robotics product manager for NITCO. After leaving the Army in 2018 he joined NITCO and has become an expert in Automation and Robotics.