How Robots Can Increase Worker Safety and Efficiency in the Supply Chain

Posted by Advanced Mobile Group on Sep 16, 2022 8:00:00 AM

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The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a catalyst for a technological revolution in the global supply chain. Until that pivotal moment in history, many businesses were unaware just how fragile our system of communication and logistics really was.

Once bottlenecks began popping up in so many places, it became evident that we were in the midst of a crisis. And the best way to regain control was through advancements in processes. One common solution has been adopting robotics. 

E-commerce activity has exploded over the past several years, which was largely related to pandemic lockdowns. Online sellers have been faced with unprecedented demand and asked to meet the needs of customers using a fractured supply chain. At the same time, worker shortages are creating even more strain and safety issues in factories and warehouses. 

The entire industry has been ripe for disruption. Now that the technology is available, more and more farms, factories, warehouses, and distributors are looking to augment their human workforce with robots. Here are some of the ways robots can increase worker safety and efficiency in the supply chain. 

How Robots Increase Efficiency and Safety in the Supply Chain

Supply chain participants that expect things to go back to “normal” probably won’t be happy with their results. The current disruptions in the global supply chain are expected to linger for many years. One study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that labor imbalances and shortages in 25 major economies between 2020 and 2030 will be responsible for $10 trillion in lost revenue. 

Manufacturers and logistics companies struggle for solutions to their supply chain challenges. Labor shortages, higher costs, and safety issues all impact productivity. This is a large reason why investments in robotics are on the rise. According to ABI Research, an estimated 50,000 robots will be online in warehouses by 2023. This is up from just 4,000 in 2018. The benefits of these investments are clear. 

Robots Increase Supply Chain Productivity

Drone in WarehouseIn addition to increased productivity and direct labor savings, there are some indirect ways that robots can improve productivity. Assuming your business chooses autonomous robots, these machines can run around the clock without breaks. They are capable of handling repetitive tasks continuously, don’t require training, and won’t need vacation time. However, they may need some downtime for maintenance. 

Companies like UPS have automated some of their operations to improve productivity during the busiest times of the year, which is also a period when it struggles to fulfill additional labor demands. UPS opened five new robotics-enabled superhubs that have up to 35% more efficiency. 

  • Robotic picking arms — Robotics can be used in the picking process. These combine robotic arms, vision systems, and intelligence software to pick items from conveyors, totes, bins, shelves, or boxes. These solutions improve productivity by reducing errors and allowing employees to focus on other tasks. 
  • Aerial drones — Aerial drones can improve productivity in the supply chain by quickly scanning RFID tags throughout a warehouse to automate inventory control. They improve accuracy and can access some hard-to-reach places with ease. 
  • Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS and RS) — Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems are robot-assisted systems that can store or retrieve items from designated locations, using RFID technology to record changes without errors. 
  • Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) — AMRs use advanced sensor technology to deliver items wherever they are required. These are nimble and compact, with the ability to identify key information using a Warehouse Management System (WMS) and RFID tags and sort items with incredible accuracy. 

Robots Improve Safety in the Supply Chain

220322-is-now-the-right-time-to-automate-your-warehouseRobotics and automation in the supply chain can help address a number of safety hazards, including falls, lifting injuries, repetitive motion injuries, and fatigue. Some safety issues, like fatigue, are also tied to productivity and quality control. 

The movement of materials is a large part of the logistics process. Even with the best safety measures in place, accidents and injuries can still happen. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4.8 recorded injuries for every 100 warehouse workers in 2020. Fortunately, robots are improving the safety of workers in the supply chain. 

  • They do the heavy lifting — Some items in warehousing and manufacturing are heavy. When human workers are asked to lift, move, and carry them, it can result in sprain and strain injuries. Instead, robot-aided systems can retrieve or place these loads as needed per the direction of human workers, saving them from potential injuries. 
  • The reduce the risk of falls — Imagine asking your workers to climb tall ladders or ride machinery to the top of a shelving unit to retrieve products. It doesn’t seem safe. Fortunately, robots can retrieve items stored up high and deep in shelves, reducing the risk of falls for workers. 
  • They prevent worker fatigue — A recent study concluded that injury risks for workers are greater when shifts are longer, breaks are shorter, or breaks given are too infrequent. One of the advantages of robots is that workers become less fatigued at work. Of course, they will still require breaks, but the risk of injury will be much lower. 
  • They shorten the learning curve — Warehouses and factories have notoriously high turnover rates for rates. When new workers come onto the job, there is a period where they need to learn the ropes, and safety could become an issue. When robots are doing some of the repetitive and strenuous tasks, this learning curve can be shortened. 

Modern technology is reshaping the future of the logistics industry and the supply chain. Businesses are increasingly turning to robotics to increase efficiency, improve safety, and meet the rising expectations of consumers. Instead of replacing workers, technology solutions like RFID tags, wireless infrastructure, and voice technology solutions can create more visibility throughout the supply chain and improve your overall results. 

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Topics: RFID, Supply Chain, Automation

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