One of the newest and most interesting trends in warehousing today is the use of robots.
These automated warehouse workers, the most well known of which are Amazon.com’s Kiva robots, most often use barcodes and other identifiers to find products stored in a warehouse and move them to the shipping queue.
There are some obvious advantages to doing this, but there can also be some disadvantages to using automation, as well.
The most obvious advantage is that human workers are no longer needed. This does a number of things for you. First, you can save some money because you won’t have to pay as many salaries and benefits (you will still need to have people on staff to deal with the robots, of course, because they will need repairs and corrections occasionally). Robots can work 24/7, so your warehouse won’t ever need to close.
This also means you won’t need as many pieces of heavy equipment—no more forklifts, for example, and the number of accidents in the warehouse will drop dramatically. You won’t need to worry about vehicles slipping off improperly placed loading dock ramps or drivers not paying attention and running into things (or worse, people). Most of these robots have been designed with safety in mind and are programmed with a number of different safety routines to protect themselves, the products, and the people who work with them.
These robots are usually much smaller than forklifts. This means the aisles between the shelves can actually be made narrower and will improve the amount of space you have in your warehouse to store things. You can add more storage to the building or rent out the additional free space.
Of course, there are some disadvantages to using robots in your warehouse. First of all, they can’t always adapt to changing situations. If a product’s identifying label isn’t where it should be or is unreadable, the robot will show an error and need assistance.
Another issue is the fact that products have to be clearly labeled like this in the first place. They often have to be packaged and stored in different ways so the robots can deal with them. In some cases, this may mean completely replacing all of the shelving in your warehouse.
That’s assuming, of course, that you can convert your warehouse into a robot-friendly zone. In many cases, businesses have to actually build an entirely new high-tech warehouse to make use of these robots. That can be very expensive.
And that’s not counting the cost of the robots themselves and the maintenance they’re going to require. The robots, conveyor belts, and other machines necessary need to be monitored and maintained. The people who do this also have to be hired and paid, and they command higher salaries than dockworkers because they have to be specially trained on the automated systems.
Because of the cost, businesses may want to think twice about implementing an automated warehouse. Smaller companies may simply not be able to afford it, while larger companies can generally handle the cost.