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Warehouse automation: 4 reasons why you won’t find robots in our aisles

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Warehouse automation: a swarm of warehouse robots move down a warehouse aisle

The dream of creating mechanical servants is as old as civilisation itself. Today, that dream is becoming a reality, as robots and AI creep slowly but surely into our homes, our schools and our workplaces.

In logistics, many see warehouse automation as a panacea for fulfilment accuracy and efficiency problems. But unless you have the time and resource of Ocado, say, it’s unlikely to be the solution for you. Here are four reasons why.

1. Warehouse robots don’t have hands

Despite employing 45,000 warehouse robots – and acquiring and rebranding Kiva Systems as Amazon Robotics the ecommerce giant is yet to solve one major problem: robots don’t have hands.

In fact, Amazon has offered a $250,000 prize to anyone who can build a robot capable of handling irregular items – from measuring spoons to mouse traps. Until a winner steps forward, humans will still be the most efficient machines for pick and pack tasks.

2. Warehouse automation can’t scale fast

If you’re an ecommerce retailer who’s looking to grow quickly or cope with seasonality, warehouse automation won’t help. It can take months, if not years, to design and deploy the kind of ordered warehouse that an automated guided vehicle (AGV) needs.

Instead, warehouse management software (WMS) and good old-fashioned humans are the best way to meet demand. Even Amazon warehouse robots need a “nomadic retiree army, to help them out from Black Friday to Christmas Eve each year.

3. Warehouse automation has a cost

McKinsey & Company suggests that it’s technically feasible to automate 45% of the work that people perform today. The thing that’s stopping us is cost. Indeed, some estimate that a warehouse automation project could run to as much as $20M.

Beyond financial costs though, automation also has a reputational and ethical cost; what we do with the workers who are displaced by machines is a very big question indeed.

4. Other solutions are available

If you’re considering warehouse automation as a way to improve your accuracy, efficiency or scalability, then moving to an ecommerce fulfilment service like James and James could be a more viable alternative. We’ll definitely be a quicker, cheaper and friendlier solution than a swarm of bots.

Fancy a chat with a human? Get in touch.

December 13th, 2017 by Luke Nava
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