Work without labor
Whenever the subject of robots comes up, the issue of their effects of the human workforce must be addressed. Automation in the warehouse, after all, can make picking activities four to five time more efficient than if they were performed by humans.
However, as many logistics companies insist, the use of autonomous robotics is having little effect on the numbers of workers they have hired and retained. Rather, the systems merely make the workers’ jobs less labor-intensive and therefore more attractive to the average worker.
“The real benefit of AMRs is that they relieve employees from tedious, low-value work, such as walking a cart full of items from order assembly areas to shipping, and then walking back,” explained Rock Magnan, president of RK Logistics. “It improves the workplace experience for the employee, makes them more efficient, and frees up time for them to focus on more higher-value activity.”
In fact, Magnan said, RK has historically had trouble finding people willing to do warehouse work, especially in the Bay Area. “We continually have dozens of positions open,” he said. “The AMRs help improve the workplace experience for our warehouse associates, enabling us to focus them on work that’s more thoughtful and stimulating, and makes the best use of their talent. This technology has proven to be a positive recruiting advantage for us.”
“RK is a great example of a company innovating its way out of a tough employment market,” said Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics. “Robots don’t take jobs, they take tasks.”
“These robots carry all the weight of the products and they get you the goods, you reduce travel time, you reduce bending down to pick up products – it just improves safety,” agreed XPO’s Harik. “It’s more of a risk aversion solution.”
While Harik says XPO does not have to hire as many temporary workers during peak periods, due to the efficiency savings, he said the company is adding more data scientists and machine-learning people to service the robots. “There’s definitely an increase in focus on technology overall,” he added.