Growing up in the 80’s forged an appreciation of steelworkers, warehouse employees and those men and women who literally built our country within hundreds of manufacturing firms from Maine to Seattle. Today, with technology booming and millions of durable goods being manufactured overseas, an unsettling question resonates within the minds of future businessmen: will warehousing as we know it fall to technology, or even more specifically, fall to robotics?
Let’s examine the evidence as we know it, then you decide.
Robotics build cars and pull inventory
Warehousing saves companies time and allows an abundance of stock to be shelved in advance. By doing this, companies can simply replenish store shelves by ordering ‘x’ amount of products from inventory. According to the Bureau and Labor Statistics, warehousing is moderately growing with an average wage of slightly over $18.00 an hour. However, with the rise of robotics capable of pulling goods, building vehicles and taking away manpower by performing manual labor, it leaves an unsettling feeling that robotics could easily replace three workers and require only one operator and one maintenance professional per 2 machines.
Fulfillment centers, often what you’ll hear large warehouses that pick products called, still rely heavily on manpower to load trucks although everyone now has digital order picking equipment that shows where SKU’s are located, how many to pull, what truck they go into, and so forth.
Technology can predict quantities – but can’t market
When stores began depleting their stock, warehouses can automatically receive alerts provided all inventory is connected to the warehouse. Years ago, bills of lading were the sole means of knowing who needed what, how much and when they needed it. Sure, technology was destined to evolve, but does this mean technology in fulfillment centers across the globe should take over man? Well, although the goal of fulfillment centers is to reduce costs in businesses, I cannot see how replacing man with machine can accomplish this short term. One thing that tech can’t do for warehouses, however, is marketing.
Marketing is the bread and butter of any warehousing strategy. While it should never be used alone, it should be one of the primary focuses for any fulfillment operation since the competition is heavy. This is a lesson that most large chains learn quickly, and so they will immediately set out to offer a marketing-heavy extension of their offline ad campaigns online. Technology cannot brainstorm, so we’re good there.
Tremendous consumer response will keep warehouses physically manned
Since the internet came into mainstream existence, one thing is for certain: there have been multitudes of innovations and many new technologies developed for the warehousing division of manufacturing facilities. In fact, in just the last few years, growth and innovation online has been unprecedented for the manufacturing business, which proves that America still needs manufacturing to be human.
In addition to the highest-ever quality available for online ordering, consumers can now pick and choose from a number of new digital methods of ordering directly from fulfillment centers and warehouses, which will keep the ‘human’ factor around for years to come. Therefore, the short answer to the article’s title would be ‘probably not in our lifetime’.