The best approach to introducing robots to the warehouse is to truly understand your workflow needs, says Brian Gaunt, senior director of accelerated digitalization at DHL Supply Chain.
Gaunt says it’s important to look at the complexity of the warehouse as “a series of multiple use cases,” requiring partnering with the best vendors in the industry. These days, that means doing business with best-of-breed robotics vendors.
As the technology has taken off in the last three or four years, there has been “tremendous” investment in the space. Caution is warranted, however. While some vendors have achieved maturity, Gaunt says, there are a lot of “up-and-comers,” who are promising but who might not have the required efficiency and flexibility. “There’s a lot to offer, but definitely there are some things to look out for,” he says. “It's not quite as easy as just dropping in your existing process.”
Regardless of what the robotic technology brings to the warehouse, safety is always the number-one priority, Gaunt says. “We want to ensure that automation is going to be deployed in a safe manner, whether it's a collaborative robot or an industrial robot.”
Reduced onboarding time is one of the key advantages to robots, Gaunt says. High job turnover is common in warehousing, of course, so being able to swiftly get an operator up and running with the technology is vitally important.
Gaunt says DHL deploys thousands of “cobots” – robots working collaboratively with humans. He says large productivity increases are common because of it.
He believes as the industry grows, robots will tackle even more challenges. Nevertheless, they’re not meant to replace “the human factor,” but to bring greater productivity to the workforce. To that extent, the warehouse of the future may be coming much sooner than previously imagined.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.