6 Ways ASRS Can Help You Survive Labor Fluctuations

Guest blog by Chelsea Tarr from MHI Member Company Kardex Remstar

This is probably not news to you, but there’s a growing fluctuation in labor availability in manufacturing and its full effects are yet to be felt. This is partially due to the aging labor force but now coupled with the effects of a global pandemic, COVID-19, labor is scarce.

Baby boomers are ages 56 – 74 right now and retirement for those who are lucky is 60, 65 for most and upwards of 70 for some. So, we have to find a way to keep them working and happy – after all this is where the real expertise lies. I mean who knows the ins and outs of your operation better than anyone – Tom in the warehouse because he’s worked for your organization for 30+ years. He’s an invaluable resource.

We have a good portion of the workforce that needs to work for another 10 years. In 2003, 82 percent of boomers were part of the labor force; a decade later, that number declined to 66 percent, and today it’s down to 33 percent. The steep decline in available workers poses a challenge and is creating a current and future labor shortage in manufacturing. There simply aren’t as many willing and able individuals as needed to fill job openings in manufacturing, material handling and logistics. Not to mention, COVID has had a significant impact on the labor pool.

As retiring baby boomers take their unique skills with them, replacing them with new workers of equivalent skill sets has proven difficult. To compensate for two workforce challenges—fewer workers and the skills gap—more companies are investing in automated solutions. These technologies help to both reduce the physical demands of warehouse activities, as well as streamline and organize the required tasks for better productivity with fewer workers.

First let’s talk options: vertical lift modules, vertical buffer modules, vertical carousels and horizontal carousels. But how do these automated solutions bridge the gap for the aging labor force?

1. Elimination of travel time

In a conventional storage system, manual fulfillment can account for as much as 60-65% of a workers’ time. However, with automation, goods are brought directly to the worker operating on the “goods to person” principle. This eliminates the need to walk and search for a part within the warehouse, saving time and increasing productivity. Although we know people like their daily walks, taking them at work isn’t good for productivity.

2. Improved ergonomics

Stop making your workers bend down to retrieve an item or climb a ladder to reach the highest shelf. This is just an accident or workers comp claim waiting to happen. Instead, automated solutions deliver goods to an operator at an ergonomic height, known as the “golden zone” which is waist height. No more bending and reaching, thus eliminating those worker injuries.

3. Reduction of search time

Ever wonder how much time it takes for someone to find the correct item to pick once they reach the storage location? Probably longer than you want to know. Automated storage and retrieval systems can be equipped with light-directed technology to quickly and easily guide the operator to the appropriate pick location. Eliminating all that search time and boosting accuracy.

4. Error prevention

The opportunity for human error is pretty significant in a manual picking operation. Not only do automated solutions have indicator lights, as mentioned previously, they also can be integrated with message center to communicate with the operator. This tells the operator the exact part number and quantity to be picked.

5. Optimized picks

It can be difficult for an individual operator to manually pick more than one order at a time, resulting in maybe 50 lines per hour. For faster throughput, dynamic storage solutions utilize inventory management software to sequence picks which results in faster picking times. In addition, batch picking, grouping orders with common items together can increase throughput by as much as 200%!

6. Fast training

A temporary worker unfamiliar with a facility’s layout can be stationed at an automated storage and retrieval system for highly productive picking after just a brief introduction to the equipment.

All of these functions can optimize an existing labor force, increasing productivity from 200% to 600%. Because an automated solution enables just one worker to handle the picking assignments of multiple operators, as many as two-thirds of a facility’s workforce can be reassigned to other, non-picking tasks, without a loss of throughput. Alternately, implementing these automated storage solutions can compensate for a scarce and declining labor pool—a trend that will only progress as baby boomers continue to retire, and take their valuable skills with them. The labor shortage as a result of COVID will also have a lasting impact on manufacturing.
Dynamic storage solutions can be considered attractive and a lot of these products are innovative at their very core. If your facility is perceived as high tech, perhaps you could also attract a younger labor force for the long term and stave off this labor shortage.