Customers' e-commerce demands have exploded because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that has challenged B2B and B2C distribution center workforces, says Steve Simmerman, head of global alliances at Locus Robotics.
Heightened customer expectations, labor shortages and outmoded systems are among the issues that warehouse operators are facing today, and the pandemic has only exacerbated those challenges, Simmerman says.
B2C buying has swelled during the pandemic as more people have shopped from the comfort of their homes. Along with the increase in orders, customers’ demands have risen in volume. They want their stuff, and they want it quickly. Simmerman says the behavior of B2B is much the same: Orders have skyrocketed, and buyers demand to know order location and delivery time.
The labor supply is in crisis mode, Simmerman says. “Operators are having a very difficult time hiring and retaining workers. This has been happening for a while, but it's really been exacerbated by the pandemic.”
Warehouse design is the third prong of the multifaceted challenge. “A lot of these distribution centers were designed for a different mix of orders coming through, and now it's been turned on its ear,” Simmerman says. “So operators are challenged with the physical flow of goods in a building that may not be designed for today's world.”
Simmerman believes “unparalleled innovation” in collaborative robotics can surmount today’s warehousing challenges. “They’re designed to work side by side with humans in a distribution center,” he says. “We're seeing tremendous growth in collaborative robots, helping to make the workforce more productive and safer, and reducing the stress in their lives.”
He sees building design changing dramatically in warehousing. “The industry as a whole, from a software, robotics and DC layout perspective, is going to see dramatic change in the landscape of the future.”
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