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How Robotics Are Revamping the Face of Warehouse Logistics

If you’re a logistics pro managing a warehouse, you’re no doubt already aware of the fact that the industry has a major problem: Approximately 80% of all global logistics facilities are still operating manually.

At the same time, there’s a talent crunch—logistics companies are having a hard time finding enough technically savvy workers to fill all the available positions, a trend that probably won’t be reversing itself anytime soon.

Out of all of the proposed solutions, the most viable one is also the most futuristic: the use of robotics. No, I don’t mean an army of human-like androids designed to eat and then replace human laborers. I’m talking about a series of integrated technologies that allow for the automation of certain warehouse functions, so that living, breathing humans can realign their efforts to have the greatest impact.

Logistics automation solutions (robotics are just one example) have the power to increase operational efficiency, improve workforce management efforts, and relieve the pressure caused by today’s talent shortage.

HOW ROBOTS GAVE WAY TO 21ST CENTURY LOGISTICS

Perhaps the number one change in the logistics industry that has facilitated the birth of the modern-day robot renaissance can be summed up in three simple letters: IoT. Also called the “Internet of Things,” it’s the philosophy that technological devices connected to the Internet can and should be communicating with one another at all times.

This single concept has the potential to connect every piece of technology in our lives —from device scanners to mobile phones to desktop computers to autonomous shipping drones— allowing them to operate as a cohesive whole through the rapid exchange of data over the Internet.

GreyOrange, an India-based startup, is the perfect example of warehouse robotics at work. The company has developed a robot-powered goods-to-person system that involves robots (adorably dubbed “Butlers”) navigating the warehouse via a series of QR codes marked on the floor. The robots scan the QR codes as they pass over them, functioning through a trackless navigation system that always gets where they need to be.

 RELATED: 6 Tips to Overhaul Your Dock’s Operational Efficiency

 WHAT ROBOTICS MEAN FOR LOGISTICS TALENT

Anyone working in logistics for the last few years can tell you that the entire industry is facing a talent crunch of massive proportions. A study conducted by Dr. C. John Langley Jr. of Penn State University in 2014 predicted that there would be six available logistics jobs for every one qualified person over the next decade alone.

As bleak as this sounds for the industry, robotics may hold the key to solving this crisis in the warehouse environment — just not in the way some might think. If you envision robots replacing qualified employees in every open role, you’ve been reading too many science fiction novels. What is more likely to happen is that job requirements themselves will change as robots enter the workforce.

Logistics companies that embrace robotics-based automation will also increase their need for technology and data-flow management positions. The very definition of a “warehouse worker” will change in a way that has not yet ascended to its final form.

IMPLEMENTING ROBOTS IN LOGISTICS: SOME CONSIDERATIONS

One of the primary factors that logistics pros need to think about before integrating robots into their warehouses is how this new technology can complement existing automation efforts. Remember, just as robots are not intended to replace human employees, they’re not meant to necessarily replace the rest of your virtual infrastructure either.

Thanks to concepts like the Internet of Things, it’s now easier than ever for logistics managers to incorporate robots into other automation solutions, like yard management and e-sourcing software.

Another major factor that logistics pros need to consider before implementing robots into their operations? How to best optimize the human workforce they have left. Again, I’m not talking about robots as an army of menacing Terminators designed to steal people’s jobs before swiftly and coldly killing them. Rather, robots in logistics should be looked upon as a way to complement existing resources, putting the “human touch” to smarter use.

To that end, cloud-based workforce management tools like dock scheduling software can be a huge benefit to everyone from dock managers to upper management. A good online scheduler can help make it easier to get the right people in the right places in the right time via accurate reporting about what tasks need to be performed when, which employees are qualified to meet those demands, and how many employees it takes to do a particular job.

THE BRAVE NEW WORLD OF WAREHOUSE LOGISTICS

Think about it: in just a few short years we’ve gone from warehouses being entirely manned by human employees to one of the most promising, efficient and reliable mixtures of human and technology taking place anywhere on the planet today.

As concepts like the Internet of Things continue to advance alongside of robot technology, it’s hard not to get excited about what the future of this technology in the logistics industry.

Beep boop bop.