The pandemic was the perfect storm for the warehouse industry. Workers, already in short supply, abandoned the industry in droves due to a perception that facilities could not adequately protect them from exposure. At the same time, e-commerce exploded, increasing the demand for workers.
Significantly higher wages, signing bonuses, and increased attention to worker satisfaction have become mainstream as warehouses try to keep up with demand. However, maintaining optimal staffing numbers remains a challenge, and many warehouses are turning to technology to fill the gaps.
Strategically employing automation could solve some of your warehouse staffing problems. By using technology to perform repetitive or unsafe tasks, warehouses can provide a safer environment and more fulfilling work for their employees.
Picking is the foundational job in any warehouse. Collecting items to ensure orders are correct and getting those orders prepared for shipment is labor-intensive. Many distribution centers would benefit from automating picking to the degree possible, minimizing the need for human workers.
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can perform picking tasks more quickly and accurately than humans. Some AMRs are programable to avoid placing too much pressure on an item, preventing damage humans might have caused when picking.
Wearable devices are another innovation making picking more efficient and less stressful for the picker. Wearable wristbands or headsets can scan products as they are picked, eliminating the need for a picker to carry a tablet or hand-held scanner. Like other forms of technology, these devices increase efficiency and speed and could reduce the number of humans a distribution center needs to optimize its throughput.
Drones can quickly and accurately manage cycle counting inventory, sparing employees from this mind-numbing task. They also can reduce hazards, counting inventory stored higher up and relieving workers of the need to climb a ladder or use a mechanical lift to scan the item code.
Humans could perform the more analytical job of reviewing video or other information a drone collects, checking it for anomalies, and correcting any issues it discovers. For example, footage from a drone might indicate a high-shelf item is misplaced. A human could do the gratifying problem-solving of discovering how it came to be misplaced, preventing the problem from occurring in the future, and managing the item’s relocation to the correct position in the warehouse.
Increased automation is usually promoted as a bad thing for workers, but it could significantly enhance the attractiveness of warehouse employment. Learning to operate robots and drones and “teach” them how to function better in a specific warehouse environment could be a more satisfying way for warehouse workers to spend their time.
Warehouse management software is becoming more complex. Still, these systems usually are not so sophisticated that mastering them requires a degree. Jobs using WMS software remain accessible to most warehouse workers, and training in these technologies could increase a worker’s job satisfaction.
Of course, any technological upgrades require an investment, and depending on the size of the operation, the return on investment might not make sense. Using a third-party logistics provider could be the answer for you.
3PL providers have access to an array of technologies scalable to make sense in your operations. Utilizing these technologies strategically reduces the required labor force and provides remaining workers a safer workplace and enhanced job satisfaction.