Approximately 2.3 million people in various industries worldwide succumb to work-related accidents or diseases annually, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Although safety has improved tremendously throughout the years, particularly through automation, warehouses are one work environment that sees its fair share of common mishaps – everything from slips and falls to injuries from falling objects, overexertion and repetitive stress. That’s why safety is paramount to operational production as issues can result in hurt employees and lost time, product and revenue.
Couple safety concerns with the fact we’re in the midst of a global labor shortage – a challenge plaguing warehouses even before the pandemic, particularly in extreme working environments. It’s easy to understand why 63% of businesses measure operational savings as a success metric for automation.
Warehouse automation allows companies like yours to do more with fewer workers, while at the same time keeping them safe. Further, by adding automation solutions that can replace workers in some instances and enhance the productivity of others, warehouses become more efficient and productive.
Let’s explore ways in which automated solutions can improve safety and productivity in your warehouse.
Ensure worker safety comes first
Healthy workers are more likely to work efficiently. And because of this, more and more organizations are turning to automated technologies like conveyor systems, palletizers, and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), to reduce overexertion and repetitive tasks, minimizing injuries, time off, workers’ compensation and lost productivity.
AMRs in particular reduce or even eliminate manual tasks like walking times and transporting items and can grow with you or scale up or down as needed – often with zero ramp-up time. By taking on more repetitive, time-consuming tasks, robotics solutions, including picking robots or AMRs, make your workers’ jobs easier, safer and more productive.
Further, automation and technology like vision- and/or voice-directed solutions reduce employee errors and guide processes in extreme working environments, such as the cold chain industry, helping to protect their health while increasing productivity. In fact, automation often eliminates the need for people to work in extreme conditions, like freezers, for instance.
Not surprisingly, the acceptance of and investment in automation has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. Some automated technology providers have added social distancing features to their equipment and software, sending, for example, proactive alerts when workers breached a safe zone of six feet. Technology providers even embedded software with features like reminding employees to wipe down buttons and screens, helping to decrease the likelihood germs and viruses could be transmitted from one employee to another.
Increase productivity to meet customer demand
Another factor driving warehouse automation technology adoption is e-commerce fulfillment as consumers expect next day, and in some cases even same day, delivery. In 2020 alone, more than two billion people purchased items or services online, with e-retail sales topping $4.2 trillion dollars worldwide. This means increased warehouse productivity is key to keeping customers happy – and not just those who shop online.
Order picking is one of the most time-consuming warehouse activities, often exceeding 65% of total operating costs. Voice-picking or pick-by-light/pick-by glass solutions help workers reduce the process of traveling, searching and picking for items.
In fact, while manual methods allow workers to pick approximately 75 to 150 items per hour, automated solutions like goods-to-person or goods-to-robot technology enable picks between 200 to 800 items during the same timeframe – vastly increasing productivity.
Layer pickers, which help your warehouse handle complex layer and case picking, are another example of technology that increases efficiency. For example, a layer picker can quickly de-palletize pallets of toilet paper, water and hand sanitizer and build a mixed pallet holding all three much quicker than workers could to complete the job.
The system learns during operation and adjusts accordingly. For instance, a layer picker learns when a product should be handled a certain way or in which order it should be picked and changes settings to improve throughput and reduce errors, resulting in higher performance and downtime.
Invest in automation today
The global warehouse automation market is set to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.6% from 2021-2025, reaching approximately $30.99 billion in 2025. Further, nearly half of supply chain professionals said they plan to add automation in the next 5 years. It’s no wonder since the return on investment (ROI) is well worth it.
Automation improves worker safety by reducing or eliminating repetitive, often-injurious tasks and gets people out of unhealthy working environments. And as you know, healthy employees are more productive. By focusing on safety, automation can also enable your warehouse to become more productive – allowing you to do more work with less.
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