The Rise of The Warehouse Robot is Coming – Sort of

Warehouses aren’t what they used to be even five years ago. Everything is getting automated. Managers keep track of inventory with iPads, and every day, more and more systems are integrating with artificial intelligence to make processes run smoother. Think about the 1980s (or just watch an episode of Stranger Things), Sci-Fi was a thing only capable in the movies. Fast forward to today, AI is everywhere, and it’s only getting smarter. 

More industries are adopting AI – even the ones you wouldn’t think could use the technology.  But it turns out, smarter systems are changing the game for every corner of commerce while improving profits, efficiency, and targets. 

We’re not there yet, but there are some layers to the problem that need to be addressed like the future of the everyday worker and where they fit in. The industry is making leaps towards a full artificial intelligence integration, but there are a lot of things to consider in the future. What could happen beyond 2020 is anyone’s guess.

Think about productivity and communication 

AI will change productivity because robots never get tired – they can perform above and beyond. AI can change a pick-and-pack warehouse with direct results. Right now, workers need to communicate with bosses to keep operations flowing smoothly to achieve targets and keep tasks on time. With AI, machines can speak to one another to make sure all movements are timed for perfect execution. All a manager has to do is keep track via a mobile app – making sure everything is running on time and error-free. 

Because AI is driven by machine learning, the more interactions the system has, the more data it collects. The data will turn into usable information, citing what people are buying, but also the frequency of picks, which may lead to stronger algorithms and patterns of usage. If something is a more prominent seller, and the data suggests a wave of sales, this could be grounds for restocking along with other insights. 

Robots are the next warehousing frontier

If you visit some of the Amazon shipping centers, Kiva, their picker-packer robot only needs a 5-minute recharge every hour. Soon, newer robots will be able to go longer with a quicker charge. One of the most significant areas of worry is that humans will be completely erased.

There will be less of a need for people on the line, but humans will need to keep an eye on lines, do maintenance, and keep the whole ship sailing. 

With speech recognition, we’ll see effective voice-picking technology where AI can learn a worker’s voice. This helps confirm the accuracy and keeps humans working on other things while robots do the work. 

What can we expect in the right now? 

Everywhere you look, it’s no secret that warehouses are an industry in-flux.

As systems are changing and more computers and technology are ingrained into the culture of warehouses and distribution centers, it’s going to take some time. We’re still a few years off from full-on automation. 

Robots, while convenient, will need people around to keep them on-task, but also make sure processes are moving along. As AI-driven technologies and software develops, there’s going to be so many iterations, which most predictably will be expensive at first. After a few generations of the machines, smaller and medium-sized warehouses will be able to adopt the technology, but it’s going to take time. 

Till then, what’s important is embracing how AI will change warehouses for the better, to make processes faster, but again, don’t set your clocks on it. We see AI grow by leaps and bounds with Siri and Alexa, but both of these processes are human-driven, and holistic rather than entirely data-driven. Both of the voice-prompted technologies rely on machine learning, which works for this stage of data collection. In the long run, we’re going to need a finer pointed picture of what people are buying, and in what kinds of stages. This kind of information is available, but imagine what it will look like a few years from now. 

When the busy season strikes, you’ll need to be ready

Because we’re a ways away from AI taking over, there’s a solution at least for right now: on-demand workers. If a warehouse is poised for significant changes, but staffing is a concern, going on-demand is probably one of the smartest moves a team could make. Instead of hiring full-time workers, warehouses can hire for specialized needs and specific spikes in business. The cost is a lot lower than hiring someone on plus, there’s no paperwork once a new system gets online. 

Because time and money are the universally driving factors concerning AI emerging, warehouses are going to need to change up pretty much everything. Staffing is going to look and feel differently. This is why considering on-demand staff as a last line of defense is critical in the grey areas of the culture change. There’s no sense in making a long-term investment in employees who might not be around in a few years to help implement new systems. AI is a long game, and on-demand warehouse staffing is a piece of the puzzle that will be a difference-maker. 

If you’re interested in learning more about on-demand staffing, check out Adia. We’ve helped companies in a lot of different industries do their best work. And if you liked this article, check out the rest on the Adia blog. There’s a little something for everyone. 

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