Robotics have revolutionized industries and workplaces around the globe. Robots reduce the risk of accidents at work, minimize the chance of human error, and can work 24/7 without becoming tired. This makes transitioning to an automated fleet of robots the obvious choice for warehouse managers looking to gain a competitive advantage.
However, transitioning to a robotic-led warehouse can be tricky. You still need a healthy dose of human supervision and should slowly introduce robotics to avoid miscalculations that derail operational efficiency.
Benefits of Robotics
Warehouses around the world utilize robotics to store, organize, and ship the goods that come through their business. For example, industry leaders like Amazon use robotics to reduce costs and create more resilient supply chains.
The robotic revolution is forecasted to expand, too. Joe Quinlivan, Vice President of Robotics Fulfillment and IT at Amazon predicts “[the] next five years [of robotics] is going to dwarf anything we've done in the last 10 years,” and that further investment in robots is “really going to transform our network.”
Robotics can be used for smaller businesses and independent warehouses. Smaller businesses rely on high-quality service and need to eliminate the risk of human error to remain competitive. As such, automating some tasks with robotics can reduce the risk of error and create a more efficient workplace.
However, warehouse managers should be wary of accidents and mistakes that may occur during the transition. Managers still need to train staff properly and should audit current safety protocols to ensure that robotics are part of a safe working environment.
Robots are supposed to take on the heavy lifting that is done in warehouses to reduce the risk of injury or accident. However, robots themselves may pose a risk to the health and safety of staff in the warehouse.
Before robots arrive, warehouse managers should complete a facility safety assessment to ensure that robots will be well integrated into the existing workspace. Managers should consider the loads that need to be transported and the route that each robot will take. If floor space is cramped, staff may be put at risk by robots that carry heavy loads.
Managers can further mitigate the risk posed by moving robots by utilizing safety paint. Safety paint shows workers where they can walk without fear of being in the path of robots. This keeps humans out of the path of robots and is a cost-effective solution to a common safety hazard in automated warehouses.
Warehouse staff should also know how to identify and report abnormalities. A checklist can be used to help staff assess whether or not a robot in the warehouse is functioning properly. The reporting process should be as easy as possible to increase adherence.
Sensors can be used to ensure that human staff isn’t put at risk by robots. Amazon’s workers wear harnesses complete with sensors to ensure that industrial robots can “see” human staff. This reduces risk and improves safety, as workers can move through spaces without having to adjust to busy robots around them.
Staff who work in automated warehouses require further training to ensure that the transition to robotics goes smoothly. Training staff correctly will reduce errors and may boost morale as staff who learn to operate and fix robots will gain employable skills that will serve them well and help them climb the career ladder. One way companies can do this is by utilizing virtual reality.
Even companies like FedEx already use virtual reality to train warehouse staff. Jefferson Welch, human resource director for FedEx Ground University, explains that VR “allows us to bring an immersive learning technology into the classroom so people can practice before they step foot on a dock.”
Using VR during training can curb turnover, cut costs, and change employees’ negative perceptions of training programs. VR is particularly useful if staff is expected to operate or repair robots. VR training also can reduce the risk of costly mistakes and ensures that staff feels confident when they start using automated technology.
Robots are particularly useful in warehouses where hazardous materials are handled or where more safety hazards exist. For example, in warehouses where pharmaceutical goods are present, robots can provide a sanitary alternative to human handling.
Robots can help warehouse managers maintain the cleanliness of warehouses and reduce the risk of cleanroom contamination. The most common sources of cleanroom contamination include human skin particles and grease that originates on people and personnel.
However, not all robots are fit for use in hazardous environments. Choosing the right robot is key to successful integration in hazardous environments. Industrial robots like robotic arms are needed to handle dangerous materials, while service robots can effectively sanitize and disinfect workspaces without the need for human intervention.
Robots are the future of warehouse management. Robots are more efficient, less prone to error, and don’t require further training. However, the transition to robotics in the warehouse can be perilous. Warehouse managers can mitigate risk by training existing staff ahead of time and the following same safety standards that industry leaders like Amazon utilize.
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Author Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, tech education, and fitness-related content. When she isn't writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.