The Bot Revolution: 3PLs Go High Tech to Streamline Warehouse Operations

Until recently, robotics in the warehouse seemed far off and out of reach due to the formidable capital costs associated with automation, and the lingering doubts of a worthwhile ROI. But as 3PL executives are being tasked more and more with making their operations more efficient and cost-effective, it seems that there is a welcome ‘bot revolution’ in the supply chain industry. 

Co-bot arrangements, which pair robots with human workers, are showing “real productivity gains” in the warehouse space without requiring a large capital outlay, making them a necessary consideration for 3PL executives. Rather than replacing warehouse associates, co-bots assist the worker by guiding them around the warehouse or bringing items to the worker in a particular zone to facilitate the piece picking task. The new technology involves limited training requirements for the existing warehouse staff, and is making the workers job more fun, more productive, and more high-tech. 

There is an unexpected ease of implementation with this new class of automation, making the software integration, warehouse set-up, and employee training much less complex and time-consuming than anticipated. Likewise, the financial investment has been mitigated in many cases by allowing companies to utilize robots as a service—by offering either renting or leasing of the automation—to allow for spot deployments that can flex with the business’ demand. 

In Our Opinion …

We agree that there is no need for most companies to invest heavily in capital expenditures to change existing warehouse infrastructure in order to augment their goods-to-person model. Automation should be adaptable to warehouse or distribution center environments with a low capital investment, and have the ability to flex with changing business needs, augmenting with human labor when necessary. 

But automation is not just about a strong financial ROI, or the efficiency that it can bring to warehouses and distribution centers; it is also about gains in productivity and quality of life for the human labor force. We believe that truly collaborative robots shouldn’t push humans to work harder, rather they should empower humans to work smarter. 

Our Swift Product Suite allows warehouse workers to increase their productivity by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for them to conduct repetitive, boring tasks. It’s backbreaking labor and most people can’t do it hours on end. By transforming warehouse workers into “robotic workforce” supervisors, businesses can offer workers new roles that are safer and offer a higher quality of life. These new roles make people more efficient because they are managing and working with a team of robots, and it allows for greater SKU proliferation—resulting in a fulfillment company that is more profitable with a more engaged and happier workforce.