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Peoplevox Updates

The 8 warehouse jobs that robots can't do 

Will Grove
  • 10 March 2018
  • 9 min read

The SlideShare & content in this blog touches on some of the points made in our latest whitepaper, titled 'Will robots wipe out warehousing jobs?' It's an expert take on the real-world impact that robotics will have in the majority of warehouses. Download your free copy here.


Robots have the world at their metal fingertips. The potential of robotics is massive. The promise that they give to improve efficiency across all areas of the warehouse is impressive. So...what’s the catch?

  • At the moment, they’re not the easy cure that everyone wants them to be. They’re largely unproven.
  • They're not yet fit for use in most e-commerce warehouses, where people will remain the most important resource for the foreseeable future.

What are the jobs that robots can’t do? And how can automation be employed to support human workers in the warehouse? Click through the slides, or scroll down this blog, to find out. 

 

Buying
 

The responsibilities involved with buying can be split into three separate functions:

1. Deciding which products to buy
2. Deciding which supplier to buy from
3. Deciding on the freight that should be used
 
All of these tasks currently require human input Deciding which supplier to buy from will become far easier in the near future when AI helps to speed up the development of the Collaborative Supply Chain; a concept for companies across the supply chain to share more information in order to experience dramatic improvements to inventory management and enjoy subsequent cost reductions. In this way, software automation will help out human buyers with some of their admin tasks - but people will still be needed to get the job done properly. 
 

Picking 

There are some pretty cool picking robots out there. If you haven’t seen how Ocado’s incredibly impressive ‘swarm’ of robots handle picking at its distribution centre, check out the video below.

 

These robots look cool, and they undoubtedly improve efficiency, but they aren’t yet ready to deliver on ROI for the majority. Ocado’s investments haven’t had a payoff in real-terms; profits and share values are decreasing and the grocer still needs an additional £150m from their shareholders to make sure that the march of the robots is well oiled.

Until these robots can prove that they can deliver on ROI, they’re useless to most e-commerce companies. Far more useful: intelligent software like a WMS which speeds up the picking process and makes it 100% accurate every time.

Receiving inbound

Robots will have a role to play with inbound deliveries, but that role will be very much supportive. Breaking down the responsibilities at this stage and it’s clear that some functions require a level of concentration, physicality and tact that robots don’t have (yet):

  • Measuring compliance
  • Managing human resource requirements
  •  Determining whether items were delivered as expected
  • Breaking down boxes and rebuilding ready for put away
  • Quality control assurance

This area needs an overhaul to increase accuracy and speed. Software automation can help with the more administrative tasks. And physical automation with the breaking down of boxes - all aspects will still need people to work.

 

Put away

Here, physical automation will be a great help in speeding up the put away process. But again, it won’t be able to run autonomously. It should work hand in glove with a human workforce. Walking is the biggest time-waster in a warehouse. That's why why physical automation will be such a godsend

  • Physical automation that speeds up the movement of goods, and people, from point A to point B should be welcomed
  • This doesn’t need to be complicated: it could be something that a worker rides on around the warehouse, or a conveyor belt that helps to transport goods
  • More complex robotics will need to prove ROI to have any viability

Replenishment

Replenishment, or the act of moving items from bulk to pick locations, is a job for a man or a woman with their machines in tow. They need to know the right amount of stock to bring across from bulk, and they need to transport this stock in a timely fashion.

While there are robots in development to take over all replenishment tasks, the overall benefits are not yet strong enough to justify the investment.

But improvements still need to be made. That’s where software comes in to help out with:

  • Improving warehouse layouts and organisation
  • Eliminating stock-outs from inaccurate forecasts
  • Delivering real cost benefits through removing human error and increasing efficiencies

 

Returns

Currently, this is a job that is almost exclusively being handled by the ground staff in the warehouse, albeit in some cases with the assistance of a WMS that helps to keep track of subsequent inventory changes. It’s a process that needs to be speeded up.

Physical and software automation should be introduced here to help move things along a bit faster: 

  • Conveyors can speed up the movement of goods from when they were received to the returns desk
  • Software can help out greatly with quality assurance
  • And more physical automation can transport goods for sale to the appropriate area within the warehouse.

So humans are still very much needed at returns; they could just be helped out a bit more with the right technology.

Stock control

Here’s how stock control works in too many e-commerce warehouses:

  • People see that items are running low...or have run out in a particular bay
  • Then the decision to restock is made, on the fly

Not every warehouse is as bad as this - many have rules in place to ensure that stock levels are regularly checked and topped up - but there’s still a huge reliance on humans. Robots can’t help here. But software can.

Clunky, manual methods should soon die out. Technology currently exists, like a WMS, which makes controlling stock levels far easier for the people responsible. This isn’t technology which will replace humans; it’s technology designed to make their lives easier. 

Inventory counting

Humans are needed for inventory counting. This isn’t something that robotics can feasibly handle in the majority of warehouses. Neither is it the best use of funds or resource. But the amount of time spent counting inventory, and the resource that’s dedicated to it, needs to be reduced Inventory counting can, and should, be made more efficient with the help of intelligent software.

With a WMS in place, the role and the responsibility almost disappears. It deals with real-time inventory counts, so the data is continually being updated within its system each and every time an item is scanned.

This means that the job’s already being taken care of as warehouse workers engage with their other tasks. Here, physical robotics won’’t lead to a more streamlined workforce. But software just might.


For far more detail, download our latest whitepaper. It explores the ideas in this slideshare, and this blog, in far more detail. Follow the link below to find and keep your free copy. 

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