Robots Built for Warehouses: RaaS

by Aaron Finch

How would you like to work in a warehouse, where the only person you see all day is a robot? That’s the future of warehouses, and we’ve got six reasons why it could be a good thing.

The possibility of working next to robots in warehouses is no longer science fiction: Robots Built for Warehouses: RaaS (Robots-as-a-Service) is an emerging business model in which bots and other automated systems do much of the heavy lifting. 

This trend has already changed how products are distributed and stocked. For example, when grocery chain Kroger deployed robots to pick customer orders in its distribution centers last year, it reduced picking errors by 95%.

Robots in warehouses are a long-time coming – they’ve been around for decades, but their evolution has been gradual. Today, companies are increasingly replacing human staff with robots and artificial intelligence in warehouses to do the work that was once done by hand. Who benefits? Robots end up eliminating some jobs and bringing out new ones.

Warehouses present a set of challenges and opportunities – it’s hard to predict what exactly will happen as the use of robotics expands, but many experts predict positive outcomes. People with experience in warehousing say the shifting workforce will offer more opportunity for workers, while suppliers say that automation means their customers won’t need to hire more staff.

Robots Built for Warehouses: RaaS :

1. Robots are cheaper and more efficient than humans – 

Warehouse robots typically can do the work of two to 10 human workers, and they require less supervision. They don’t need breaks or benefits, and they never call off sick. Last year, a California robotics company delivered five self-driving robots to a high-volume warehouse run by orange juice maker Cutrale in Brazil: In the months since, the bots have reportedly doubled productivity there.

2. Robots boost worker productivity – 

Warehouse robots don’t just free up time for humans to focus on more interesting jobs; they also help humans become more productive by simplifying tasks. As a result, workers can be more efficient and productive. In Amazon’s warehouses, where robots move large stacks of products around, employees can spend more time doing value-added tasks like preparing items for customers to buy.

3. Robots bring new jobs to the table – 

Some warehouse workers will still be needed to oversee robots and perform customer service such as answering questions about products or checking in returns. “It will change some jobs and create other jobs – that’s always the case,” says Joshua Ramo of The Seventh Sense, which consults on logistics for retailers like Target and Payless ShoeSource.

4. Robots can make stores smart – 

Warehouse robots aren’t just for e-commerce warehouses, though. As more retail stores accept self-checkout, automated picking and other automation technologies, the number of in-store jobs will shift. Some tasks that used to be done by grocery store employees can now be done by robots. But even as these changes become normal, logistics jobs in warehousing and at distribution centers will still be necessary to make sure the products get from point A to point B.

5. Robots aren’t replacing people – 

Warehouse robots are constructed to help humans do their jobs better – not replace them entirely. Warehouse robots reduce the burden on human workers by handling mundane, repetitive tasks and freeing up time that workers can use to focus on more fulfilling work. Amazon’s robotic fulfillment centers in particular have been lauded as examples of how automation can be used to improve the lives of workers – especially by eliminating worker injuries and long lines.

6. Robots are flexible – 

Amazon has considered using giant, warehouse-sized robots to send items to customers in minutes. For now, though, it is working with Kiva Systems’ compact robots for its warehouses: These autonomous delivery robots navigate through a warehouse like a self-driving car would navigate streets in rush hour traffic. 

Amazon uses Kiva Systems’ robots to fetch items from shelves and deliver them to human workers filling customer orders. The robots can even move around obstacles, helping them work in warehouses that still need some humans to oversee the bot-heavy process.

The competition in Amazon’s delivery market is fierce, and companies are looking for ways to ensure they can deliver more quickly than their competitors. In cities where Amazon drives its own trucks, it uses automation technology like wireless sensors and satellite imagery to schedule deliveries more efficiently than traditional trucking companies have managed in the past.

7. Robots in the factory are just the beginning – 

As a more advanced technology, warehouse robots are likely to find commercial applications beyond warehouses. Robots could free up human jobs in factories by simplifying tasks and increasing the efficiency of production processes.

 However, many experts predict that companies will start replacing humans with artificial intelligence and other forms of automation before they deploy robots at a lower cost or in smaller numbers.

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