Spurred by the record-breaking growth of e-commerce and rising labor costs, robots can have a very positive impact in distribution centers when implemented correctly.
E-commerce defines the state of global supply chains today. As Amazon continues to push toward dominance of all sales channels, more companies must tap into the power of automation to fulfill more orders. As explained by Clint Raiser of Logistics Viewpoints, e-commerce retail sales have grown at 15% annually, doubling in size since 2012. To meet rising demand, supply chain executives must begin considering new ways to increase the capacity of their existing facilities.
Why Do Companies Fear Distribution Center Robots and Their Implementation?
Distribution center robots are a force in the Amazon powerhouse, reports the Association for Advancing Automation. When Amazon purchased Kiva robots, distribution center robots became the new “shiny object turned real-world effective object” of e-commerce fulfillment. Robotics provides a boost to distribution centers and warehouse managers seeking ways to increase capacity and improve efficiency in critical areas. Implementing robotics might sound easy, but it does require standardized systems and integration of existing systems. Anyone who has worked in a distribution center knows that exceptions arise constantly. Each exception must be carefully designed, developed, and tested to ensure that the robot, the warehouse management system (WMS), and the physical situation all stay in sync.
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Another major problem for businesses looking to embrace the use of robotics goes back to basic economics; its impact on jobs. While robotics have resulted in some job loss, the case studies of Amazon, as noted by The New York Times, reveal that Amazon has added more than 80,000 jobs since they began adding Kiva robots to their distribution centers. The robots take care of arduous and repetitive tasks, leaving the people to work on more mentally challenging tasks. The net result is very efficient distribution centers that can fulfill Amazon customers’ orders quickly and cost-effectively. It’s a winning equation that has enabled Amazon to become the leader in the rapidly-growing e-commerce sector.
How to Successfully Implement Robotics in Your Distribution Center
Formerly Kiva robots, Amazon robots are no longer for sale to third parties, but that does not mean a company cannot take advantage of other robotics manufacturers. To leverage the benefits of robotics in the distribution center, managers should follow these best practices:
- Improve data transparency and quality. The blistering speed of the rise of the Internet of things (IoT) has contributed to a surge in the use of data for machine learning and autonomous applications, like robots.
- Bring disparate systems together. According to Angel Gonzalez of the Seattle Times, systems alignment is essential to leveraging gross and fine movements from robotics to human workers.
- Re-assure your workforce. Your workers are going to fear the implementation of robotics. Reassure your employees, who may be concerned with job-loss or wage-reductions. Explain the safety and economic benefits of the implementation of distribution center robots and emphasize the new opportunities implementation will bring.
- Measure performance. Any change to standard warehouse operations must be measured to ensure its profitability and viability. Track savings and performance before, during, and after implementation of robots.
- Engage with experts to guide you through the process. Automating a distribution center is much more complex than just purchasing the best robots. Third-party resources, such as Veridian, can help ensure the successful implementation of warehouse automation.
A Bird’s-Eye View of Success After Implementation
Successful implementation of distribution center robots should mirror the guiding principles behind the founding of Kiva Robotics, as shown by Supply Chain 24/7, resulting in faster fulfillment, more efficient replenishment strategies, decreased order inaccuracies, on-demand scalability, unrelenting product organization, and robust profitability.
Humans, robots, and all systems, including the warehouse management system, should work in tandem and share information. If your organization is considering implementing distribution center robots, turn to the experts and leverage their expertise to answer your questions to help you navigate the process of robot vendor choice, integration of systems, and implementation of new software necessary to work at peak efficiency.