With Workforce Challenges Prompting Greater Interest In Robots, MHI’s New Robotics Industry Group Offers Resources
By MHI Industry Group, Warehouse Automation
Although robotics technology already plays a significant role in the automation of distribution centers and warehouses—and several established MHI industry groups focus on areas within the material handling industry that utilize robotics—recent trends prompted MHI to form its newest industry group: The Robotics Group (TRG). The bulk of those trends surround the need to automate order fulfillment processes traditionally handled by a human workforce, including picking, packing, sorting and more. But with limited labor availability being experienced by distribution operations nationwide—particularly in e-commerce applications—the Group’s initial focus is on broader robotic applications that ease workforce challenges.
Many fulfillment operations first look to robotic solutions for automation of repetitive, mundane tasks that are prone to human errors. And, while many recognize the potential advantages of robotic technologies, a number of perceived barriers to adoption are still prevalent. Among them, not knowing how to build a business case to cost-justify the investment; how to fit robots into a current workflow; and what kind of support will be required to keep robotic systems working.
To address these barriers, The Robotics Group is currently working on a series of case studies featuring successful early adopters of robotics for fulfillment and distribution applications. The intent is to share both the accomplishments and the lessons learned from these companies’ experiences as a tool set to help companies in the robotic evaluation process create an investment and installation roadmap.
The Group advises that it’s important to note that the benefits received from a robotic investment should not be based solely on costs associated with continuously recruiting, training, retaining, and replacing labor. Additional benefits include the ability to more quickly respond to customer demands, higher order accuracy, and a reduction in product waste, shrinkage, damage and theft. All these factors can contribute significantly to calculating return on investment (ROI).
Further, Group members are experts in designing and implementing robotic solutions into a current process to ensure a smooth, scalable transition from manual to automated. And, as for support, many of those members are working closely with academia to support technical education at all academic levels—high schools, technical colleges and universities. This ensures that the workforce of the near future will be equipped with the skills to ensure that a robotic installation is both successful and continuously operational.