Watch: Automation’s Effect on Labor: Reduction, Not Elimination

Contrary to popular belief, automation doesn’t spell an end to the presence of humans in manufacturing and distribution environments, according to Mark Juelich, president of Industrial Procurement Services.

The biggest misconception that people have of automation today is that “somehow, it’s going to replace humans — take jobs away from people who want to work,” Juelich says.

On the contrary, he says, automation is being applied to tasks that humans don’t want to do, such as mind-numbingly repetitive functions that are common to a warehouse or factory. In addition, automation is well-suited for environment that aren’t hospitable to humans, such as freezers.

“It’s about the reallocation of labor rather than replacing labor,” Juelich says. In addition, robots can work in tandem with human workforces, such as operating in overnight shifts to boost the productivity of a facility.

The result is increased throughput and storage capability, he says. “We don’t replace anybody.”

Robots are especially attractive to distribution operations today because of the difficult of attracting and retaining human labor, Juelich says. With exponential growth in e-commerce, it’s increasingly difficult to find the necessary staff to support it. “Robotics comes in and fills that gap.”

A further advantage of automation in distribution is the ability to push more product through smaller facilities — as little as one-third the footprint of a non-automated warehouse. That opens the door for a greater variety of smaller distribution centers, such as retailer micro-fulfillment operations and even the back rooms of stores.

Juelich sees continued dramatic growth — a doubling or even tripling — in the use of automation for distribution facilities over the next five years. “There are advances in technology that we’ve never seen before,” he says.



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