For the past few years, Amazon has brought in robots to automate some of its warehouses’ operations. The retail giant is also encouraging robot development — recently putting robots to the test at Amazon’s Picking Challenge at IEEE’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle. The machines were tasked with picking and packing various items for points, with the winner awarded a cash prize.
Amazon is on to something — robots can be useful. But, they also have their limitations, especially in the business space. So, before all online businesses jump at the opportunity to have robots package and prepare items for shipment, they should consider both the benefits and pitfalls of having these machines in their warehouses. Here are a few things to know about robots in the shipping space.
How Can Robots Help?
By shifting some work to machines, businesses can redirect workers to higher-level tasks that require human logic and reasoning skills. Employees can spend time tracking invoices and working directly with customers.
Businesses can also avoid the risk of injury, since robots can eventually be built to handle extremely heavy loads. This will cut down on workers’ compensation claims and lost productivity due to worker injuries.
What Limitations Exist?
At this stage, businesses will be required to invest millions of dollars in advanced robotics, only to be forced to wait years to see a sufficient return on that investment.
As many warehouse managers likely realize, even basic tasks require some human intervention. For example, at Amazon’s Picking Challenge, participants learned that it’s faster and more practical for humans to grasp certain objects as compared to their robotic counterparts.
Even with advanced robots, there will still be time and effort required to get the robots up to speed. Robots that are pre-programmed to handle general tasks will need to be acclimated to the unique setup of each warehouse. Additionally, existing staff will need extra time to become accustomed to working in this new environment, with confusion and frustration inevitable in the early days.
What Should Small Businesses Know?
It will likely be a while before robots are a common sight in warehouses, but they may be on the broader horizon. Each business has a unique warehouse and shipping strategy, and many may benefit from adopting new advanced solutions, like robots. Before enlisting new technologies, be sure to consider your own business’ specific needs to determine if they’re a good fit for you.
(Source of Feature Image: SF Gate)