Executive Briefings

Opinion: New Material Handling Tech Must Embrace Human Ergonomics

In the quest to increase productivity in material handling and manufacturing environments and be more responsive to the changing interests and expectations of the consumer, companies are increasingly embracing new technology.

While this is by no means a new trend, the pace of adoption does seem to be quickening as big data, internet of things (IoT) solutions and advanced robotics become increasingly accepted within our society.

Where we once (recently) relied solely upon paper checklists to fulfill orders, we now use handheld scanners, mobile computers and warehouse management systems (WMS) to facilitate those tasks. It seems like every day there is yet another connected and/or automated technology being proposed as a viable option to fulfill a wide variety of warehousing and distribution needs.

Of course, new technology often brings added complexity. Even the best-designed technologies will have learning curves and require process changes and/or new behaviors to mitigate complications, simplify implementation and deliver promised benefits.

Each new technology introduced into a facility challenges managers to ensure that employees can continue to perform their work in a safe, intuitive and positive fashion while contributing to the bottom line. Unfortunately, given the increased number of potential interaction points with technology and the relative lack of precedence for some of the advancements, this is often not as straightforward as one may think.

It is important to remember that any technology can be unsafe or negatively impact ergonomic efforts when used improperly or is not supported by the proper planning. In fact, in certain cases this could even lead to a softening of the productivity gains promised by the implementation.

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While this is by no means a new trend, the pace of adoption does seem to be quickening as big data, internet of things (IoT) solutions and advanced robotics become increasingly accepted within our society.

Where we once (recently) relied solely upon paper checklists to fulfill orders, we now use handheld scanners, mobile computers and warehouse management systems (WMS) to facilitate those tasks. It seems like every day there is yet another connected and/or automated technology being proposed as a viable option to fulfill a wide variety of warehousing and distribution needs.

Of course, new technology often brings added complexity. Even the best-designed technologies will have learning curves and require process changes and/or new behaviors to mitigate complications, simplify implementation and deliver promised benefits.

Each new technology introduced into a facility challenges managers to ensure that employees can continue to perform their work in a safe, intuitive and positive fashion while contributing to the bottom line. Unfortunately, given the increased number of potential interaction points with technology and the relative lack of precedence for some of the advancements, this is often not as straightforward as one may think.

It is important to remember that any technology can be unsafe or negatively impact ergonomic efforts when used improperly or is not supported by the proper planning. In fact, in certain cases this could even lead to a softening of the productivity gains promised by the implementation.

Read Full Article