It sounds cliché when it is said that "robotics (or rather automation) is the future of wholesale distribution." At face value, it is true. However, if you take a deeper look at it– we hate to break it to you—it is equally true. In countless ways, automation is changing the wholesale distribution landscape. Hence, the need to prioritize automation in the workforce system.
Some latest development in its use is worth mentioning. Amazon, for example, has an army of thousands of robots working in their warehouses in tandem with human workers. In distribution centers, these artificially intelligent robots deliver packs to their human counterpart by safely navigating their way around the warehouse. They can also box tens of boxes at a rate four times faster than the human hands could in an hour. And, a lot more! Read on to learn more.
How automation changes wholesale distribution in 2021
The long pandemic shortened our fuse and skyrocketed our irritability and frustration. That explains why the modern man in 2021 is impatient. That further explains why to deliver excellent customer service as a wholesale distributor; you need to meet your customer demand quickly. Before we go into details and not bore you with how COVID-19 has affected the human race, let's establish some facts.
First of all, the size of every warehouse is determined by how much is being stocked there. Let's imagine it's a typical warehouse—a big plain building with an extensive storage plan capable of storing goods and protecting stuff that needs protection. There's little time due to increased customer demand and a lot of strenuous activities going on in it, such as loading, unloading, boxing, assembling, order processing & dispatching, etc. To deliver excellent customer service, automation comes into play. Because...
It saves time. When goods arrive, they need to get to the next area in your warehouse or whatever. Robots, in simple terms, called conveyors pick these items up and convey them to different areas usually to a human worker who packages the items and labels them appropriately or to a designated loading zone. When it comes to the sorting out process, they also offer a consistently high level of accuracy.
However, when it comes to the traditional sorting out process without robots; it is already established, humans, even the best of them are prone to errors.
To make these robots more efficient, some of them are equipped with thermal and haptic sensors to allow them to measure temperature and perceive touch so they can navigate their way safely through the building with less hassle as programmed. They are also equipped with other sensor technology and camera to enable them better understand their environment and establish their position within the warehouse. In summary, we can say that robots can cater to the needs of multiple clients in a very short time. The customer is happy. The distributor is happy. Everyone goes home happy.
It cuts costs. Robots have no weekends or nights to themselves. They have no dates, prom nights, or special occasions to attend. This means they work round the clock. This not only cuts costs but also improves efficiency. For example, a human inventory clerk is prone to making mistakes despite daily inventory checks. This is because such tasks are tedious and repetitive. Autonomous inventory robots, on the other hand, are equipped with scanners to scan barcode labels at a superhuman rate and other technology to conduct inventory counts with consistent accuracy.
It reduces manual labor. Robots can take on high-risk tasks. How? Repetitive jobs and some unhealthy working conditions can pose a serious health risk to human workers in the warehouse. Robots, on the other hand, can do these jobs over and over again with consistent accuracy without getting bored or tired. For example, some very heavy loads may require a minimum of 5 people to lift. This is a mark of luxury for most wholesale distributors. Some robots can lift these very heavy loads, thereby reducing manual labor and cutting down costs and time.
Types of robots
Welcome to the world of intralogistics! Are you finally interested in automating your warehouse? Here's a brief rundown on the major types of robots you could incorporate in wholesale distribution.
Autonomous Mobile Robots. They are like conveyors equipped with sophisticated technologies and sensors to help them navigate their way through their surroundings even in the presence of fixed obstructions such as racks, buildings, shelves, etc. They are referred to as autonomous because they take the right decision autonomously without human interference, unlike the old Automated Guided Vehicles, which were guided using magnetic strips or lasers.
Automated Guided Vehicles. AGV for short, are load carriers and are used to transport very heavy objects, whether finished or raw, around warehouses. There's hardly any industry today you won't find AGV being actively used. Most are laser navigated or can be guided using magnetic strips.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems. They are a special type of automated robot with a special ability to place or retrieve loads from designated storage locations with high levels of precision, speed, and accuracy. They are widely employed in warehouses, manufacturing & distribution facilities, etc. It saves humans from the stress of moving up and down when retrieving stored goods.
Aerial drones. Still, in its early stage of development, aerial drones are used to track inventories. Big companies like Amazon are already maximizing their use around their warehouses and distribution facilities.
Goods-to-person. To meet customers' orders, Goods-to-person is a robot that moves goods to the human worker who is standing stationed at a place in the building. The only job the human worker does is to pick out the needed item(s).
Aside from the fact that robots can cost an arm and a leg, mechanical issues can sometimes be quite difficult to resolve. Furthermore, they lack standardization and sometimes require months to customize them to fit the needs of your facility.
Automation is still in its neonatal stage. Hence there is still a lack of an adequate skilled labor force. These are some of the many challenges even trojan wholesale distributors have to battle with.
No matter what, you still need people
Never underestimate the value of people regardless of whether you incorporate automation into your wholesale distribution or not. Human skills still matter in 2021 or 2050. Robots can't create work culture, neither do they understand human feelings. Teamwork, leadership, creative thinking, etc., are qualities that are unique to humans. Remember, no matter how sophisticated robots are, they are still tools created by humans. They can only improve and extend human capability and not replace them completely.
A final note
Worldwide sales of automated machines are projected to reach a market value of $22.4 billion at the end of this year. The current automation trend is a result of robots' capability in cutting down labor costs and time, improving productivity and efficiency even under increased customer demand, delivering excellent customer service, and extending human capability at a superhuman rate.
However, with the current automation trend, before you jump the gun and start automating your warehouse and other facilities, you need to, first of all, determine what type of automation you need and engage professional service every step of the way.