• Topic
  • Digital Transformation
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Using Warehouse Automation to Combat the Labor Crisis

Written by Robert Brice
May 2, 2019

Businesses are facing unprecedented labor shortages and are relying on automation to combat labor crisis challenges.

With so many challenges facing today’s supply chains, technology may be the key to unlocking greater productivity.

Exponential supply chain growth due to factors such as omnichannel fulfillment, globalization, the Amazon Effect, changing consumer expectations about real-time availability, and shrinking delivery times are putting on the pressure to push higher volumes of product.

These ballooning cost pressures, combined with the 76% spike in volume of shipments associated with E-commerce in recent years, create a massive demand for ways to deliver much more with much less. According to Fortune Media, labor already accounts for nearly a third of supply chain costs. Wage growth further trims already thin profit margins.

Even though distribution center job openings have risen by 50% from 600,000 in 2014 to 900,000 in 2018, fulfilling those openings has proven to be a major challenge. Dan Gilmore of Supply Chain Digest refers to this as “The Great DC Labor Crisis.”

Data indicates that these trends aren’t going away anytime soon.

To combat this labor crisis, enterprises are turning to warehouse automation technology.

LEARN MORE: An Introduction to Warehouse Automation »


How Warehouse Automation Can Help

Warehouse automation technologies such as mobile barcoding can help compensate for challenges associated with labor shortages, significantly increasing inventory data accuracy, process efficiency, and employee productivity without the need to build new infrastructure or expand your workforce.

Warehouse automation can do this by using digital and mobile technologies to eliminate inefficient, outdated paper-based processes and manual data entry on spreadsheets, and automating repetitive manual tasks, particularly those performed with high frequency and subject to human error.

Other ways warehouse automation can improve labor effectiveness:

  • Drive higher levels of productivity, efficiency and accuracy with the same-size workforce.
  • Make warehouse jobs easier, safer, more fulfilling and more attractive.
  • Minimize onboarding time through intuitive, easy-to-use mobile systems.

Despite the widespread availability of warehouse automation technologies (like mobile barcoding) for the modern supply chain, many warehouses still lag behind when it comes to adopting new technology.

ALSO READ: Do I Really Need More Technology in My Warehouse?

However, the right warehouse automation solution can provide significant measurable improvements in your operation. These productivity gains can help you not only continue to meet—and exceed—customer expectations, but leverage performance optimization and workforce agility gain a competitive advantage.

Drive Performance Without Increasing Headcount

Modern warehouse technologies like mobile data collection and barcoding are ways companies are using automation to combat the labor crisis.

Perhaps the most readily-identifiable and measurable benefit to your warehouse from technology is in performance. Technology can connect your workforce to critical business systems across the enterprise, pushing increases in productivity, efficiency and accuracy.

Mobile barcoding is a warehouse automation technology that combines automated identification and data capture (AIDC, or ADC) with enterprise mobility technology to digitally automate inventory, warehouse and fixed asset management processes.

By using a total enterprise mobility solution that includes wireless barcode scanners and mobile software, such as the RFgen Mobile Unity Platform™, your workers are untethered from fixed workstations, freeing them to update your ERP database using live transactions from point of location. This drastically reduces the lag time between when inventory transactions take place and when they are updated in the ERP. Instead, data is communicated in real time, all the time, with a very high degree of accuracy.

Meanwhile, employees commute less and are able to react to changing situations with greater agility.

RFgen enterprise mobility technology has been proven to:

  • Increase data accuracy up to 99%
  • Boost efficiency by up to 25%
  • Raise productivity by up to 30%

Advanced WMS technology such as RFgen Warehouse Director, a WMS-Lite alternative, can create an additional layer of efficiencies, by intelligently routing workers along optimized picking, put-away and replenishment routes.

LEARN MORE: WMS-Lite actual use case »


Enhance Recruitment and Retention

Because of Amazon’s vast reach and technological footprint, nearly every supply chain must now grapple with the Amazon Effect, whether they like it or not. For hiring, this means competing against Amazon and other global supply chain giants to attract and retain workers.

Warehouse automation can be used as a way to not only compete against major players like Amazon and Walmart, but get employees to stay longer, adding their experience and knowledge to the success of the business. Technology can also encourage communication, help standardize procedures and job expectations, and create performance transparency.

Mobile barcoding technology can help enhance recruitment by:

  • Creating a more attractive workplace that doesn’t require as much physical effort
  • Making task completion easier, safer and more ergonomic
  • Increase productivity contributes to the sense of a job well-done

How mobile barcoding improves employee retention:

  • Providing the ability to analyze productivity, enabling rewarding of high performers
  • Engaging, aligning with and empowering your workforce through transparency
  • Reducing chance of employees leaving for other warehouse jobs

With warehouses pinched at 36% annual turnover, any effort that prevents a third of your team from turning over each year should be welcome. Warehouse automation may be the answer.

ALSO READ: Addressing Talent Acquisition in Supply Chain Management »

Onboard New Employees Faster

One of the major challenges helped by warehouse automation is in training and onboarding new, temporary and seasonal workers, as well as retraining the existing workforce. In 2018 alone, Amazon hired 50,000 seasonal workers just to meet expected peak holiday volumes.

How did they accomplish such a huge undertaking with minimal impact to productivity?

Warehouse technology likely played a contributing role.

Introducing an automation solution into your warehouse that simplifies your core processes and is easy to learn can drastically shorten the amount of training required for your employees. Technology that standardizes processes means training can be standardized, shortening the period between when a worker is hired and when that worker reaches full productivity.

For example, fresh produce distributor Caito Foods reduced training times by 77% using the RFgen mobile platform in conjunction with Vocollect Voice Picking.

Additionally, standardized technology solutions shifts your team’s reliance from tribal knowledge, minimizing knowledge lost when employees depart and maintaining productivity levels in the face of inevitable turnover.

Other ways mobile barcoding can accelerate onboarding practices include:

  • Regular tasks are simpler, easier and more intuitive to complete
  • New tasks are faster and easier to learn
  • Temporary workers become more productive more quickly
  • Standardized solution training is scalable and transferable between locations
  • Reduced need for training and oversight on manual processes (due to automation)

Employees are often already familiar with mobile devices and OS platforms like Android and iOS. Because of this, mobile supply chain solutions that use software with an intuitive UI (like RFgen) benefit even more greatly. Manual processes that were once complex become as simple as point and scan.

According to research from mobile device manufacturer Honeywell, 42% of transportation and logistics companies plan to invest in mobility to make tools easier to use for their employees.

With warehouse automation technologies exploding in popularity and cost-effectiveness throughout the supply chain, don’t wait until it’s too late to invest in the right technology tools for your workforce. For now, the labor crisis isn’t likely to change while existing market pressures are only expected to tighten. To stay in the competitive race, look to technologies like mobile barcoding and data collection that offer big benefits with a short ROI.