* By Katie Kuehner-Hebert *
MHI has a new Industry Group, The Robotics Group, focusing on broader applications of robotics—whether it’s arms or vehicles—within the fulfillment process to ease workforce availability problems.
“Material handling operators across the country all see the freight train coming—a lack of labor available to support the growth of the industry, especially e-commerce,” said Erik Nieves, founder of Plus One Robotics.
“As labor markets continue to tighten, people find more options for employment, which leaves warehouses and distribution centers in a high-churn scenario where they are perpetually onboarding and training staff,” Nieves said. “By applying automation for the mundane tasks, people are freed up to move into more complex—and engaging—roles within the operation.”
However, there are a number of perceived barriers holding back early adopters of such technology that The Robotics Group will seek to identify, as well as find ways to mitigate.
“One of the barriers is that they just don’t know how to justify that there’s a business case for robotics,” Nieves said. “How do they do quantify the benefits? Surely there is more than some labor savings. And how does automation get introduced and still fit within the overall workflow? No one wants to revamp the entire operation just to fit a robot in.”
The other barrier is their concern over whether the technology is going to work for them, he said. “Will they be able to keep this robot running?”
Warehouse managers are necessarily risk averse and need any solution to be reliable, so they want to know if early adopters were successful and what they had to learn to make the robots really effective, Nieves said.