Digital Helpers in the Warehouse

19.08.2021 by Daniel Kunz
Warehouse workers load boxes with a forklift truck

In the warehouse, machines are increasingly taking on simple and repetitive tasks so that humans can deal with more complex and varied challenges. How IoT devices and robots optimize efficiency and the work environment.

The shortage of skilled labor has many faces. Kristi Montgomery, Vice-President of the U.S. logistics giant Kenco, has a problem. She is unable to find skilled forklift operators for a number of her 100 warehouses, especially in metropolitan areas, she recently told Forbes Magazine. The startup Phantom Auto has come up with a solution that would be very much to the taste of Disney’s Gyro Gearloose: autonomous forklift trucks that can be remotely controlled. Montgomery can now recruit location-independent forklift drivers or hire employees who are physically unable to handle a real forklift.

Forklift drivers are not the only employees who appreciate the assistance of smart machines. Work is by no means over once the autonomous forklift has removed the heavy pallet from the truck or container and placed it in its position in the warehouse. Many people might break out into a sweat at the mere thought of lifting barrels, sacks or crates from the pallet. Luckily, here too there are now automatic robot systems that lend warehouse workers a proverbial helping hand.

Fewer back-breaking tasks is all well and good, but what about the jobs? Robots may work effectively but once they start to compete with workers for the jobs many employees would soonest see them in the garbage. There is no cause for alarm, however; quite the opposite. The World Economic Forum anticipates in its The Future of Jobs Report that automation will replace 85 million jobs around the world by 2025 but will at the same time create 97 million new jobs. The task of automation is not to replace humans entirely. The technology is intended merely to relieve humans of tasks they don’t much like anyhow because they are physically demanding, mentally undemanding, monotonous, tiring or potentially dangerous. That surely sounds much more cheering than machines that take over control of the world (or at least the world of work), doesn’t it?


 

„Companies that fail to appreciate the central role people play in a successful supply chain will face problems.“

DHL Logistics Trend Radar 2020


 

Robots are firmly established at the industry giant Amazon. An estimated 200,000 mechanical aids assist Amazon employees in production and storage. Palletizing robots – robot arms with grippers – recognize products on conveyor belts and transfer them to pallets for shipment or storage. Another robot arm lifts pallets laden with goods to different levels at the logistics center or onto autonomous transportation units that take them to their next destination. Moving heavy or hard-to-access goods is a blessing for employees. After, there is little or nothing nowadays that people don’t mail order from Amazon. A supersize refrigerator with a 520-liter capacity? A sofa bed with a surface area of four square meters? An 85-inch flatscreen TV? What customers order for delivery with just one click often means seriously hard work for the drivers who deliver them.

At Amazon transportation robots drive entire shelves full of goods straight to the workstations where merchandise is picked and packed. Humans and machines work hand-in-gripper, reducing walking distances covered in the warehouse. In addition, labeling machines take care of the monotonous labeling of boxes. They label one package per second. How fast is that? If you have ever stamped a letter by hand you will realize that it takes well over a second.

Like these connected vehicles and robots, digitization and the Internet of Things (IoT) have made many other innovative warehousing solutions possible that assist and ease the burden on employees by relieving them of fatiguing activities. The labeling machine alone demonstrates that technology can help improve efficiency to an otherwise barely conceivable extent. We now take a look at other examples of warehouse logistics work.

Conclusion: In the warehouse, IoT devices and robots help ensure that employees have fewer tedious, monotonous and strenuous tasks to perform. Instead they can concentrate on typically human tasks such as quality assurance. That’s what teamwork looks like in the digital age.


 

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Daniel Kunz
Daniel Kunz

Expert Digital Marketing

Digitization and the Internet of Things are among the favourite topics of Daniel Kunz. He has been with Deutsche Telekom since 2017 and regularly writes about technology trends and many exciting topics, especially for the retail trade and the logistics industry.