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The Solution to the Warehouse Labor Shortage: a Complementary Robotic Workforce

It’s December, and that means the holiday shopping season is in full swing.  We’ve already seen record online shopping across the globe. It kicked off when China’s Alibaba had its annual “Singles Day”—the equivalent of Amazon Prime Day—and it set a new record with $30.8 billion in sales. This huge one-day total is up 27% from last year, illustrating the continued powerful rise of e-commerce. Then Amazon reported record sales for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and overall U.S. online sales were up markedly for both days. The former saw sales rise 24% to $6.2B, and the latter rose almost 20% to $7.9B.

All of those transactions equate to the need for more labor on the back-end to process and deliver orders. Furthermore, the impact of e-commerce—and Amazon in particular—has conditioned consumers to expect that they can buy almost anything they want, and have it delivered to their door in two days or fewer. This shift in expectations is driving an acute labor shortage in the warehousing and distribution industry, as e-commerce players fight for skilled pickers and packers who are capable of keeping up with the demand. While overall unemployment in the U.S. is below 4%, unemployment in the Warehousing and Storage subsector in September was even lower at 2.9%. According to a recent report by commercial real estate firm CBRE, the rapid growth of e-commerce is forecast to create demand for another 452,000 warehouse and distribution workers in the U.S. this year and next, signaling an acceleration of job growth in the already labor-strapped industry.

This labor shortage is driving up wages, as well as making it increasingly difficult for warehouse managers to retain their most skilled workers. Retaining the best workers is especially crucial for pickers, where top performers often work at twice the rate of their peers, and with better accuracy. In a recent survey conducted by Logistics Management, the inability to attract and retain a qualified hourly workforce was rated as the #1 issue facing the industry by more than 55% of respondents.

How can e-commerce companies and third-party logistics firms keep up, especially with the additional need for temporary workers they have right now?  The answer, increasingly, is automation. But for the thousands of warehouses in the U.S. still operating with 100% manual labor, traditional goods-to-person automation, in the form of fixed AS/AR (automated storage and retrieval) systems, is too expensive and requires the disruption of rebuilding the entire warehouse. This represents millions of dollars in CapEx, and implementation can take months, if not years. Newer technologies that offer mobile robotics solutions that augment the picking process reduce the expense and disruption, but they still require the hiring and retention of people walking the aisles with the robots.

What if you could implement automation without changing a thing and without having to find additional warehouse workers? What if you could continue to use existing shelves, totes, or bins, and dramatically increase production without adding labor?  

Now you can.  

The next generation of warehouse automation is an economical, mobile goods-to-person solution. inVia Robotics offers a turnkey, Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) system where robots are deployed to autonomously perform the picking process. The robots retrieve the totes, allowing warehouse managers to let their best workers do the picking at a fixed station. The resulting increase in productivity can be as high as 500%.

Even better, the system can be deployed in days, not weeks or months, and there is no upfront CapEx. It then quickly adapts to seasonal spikes in demand by flexibly scaling up or down the number of robots needed. The RaaS model aligns directly with customers’ needs so that businesses only pay for what they use. There is no need to purchase or lease robots. Pricing is based on productivity.

The inVia Robotics solution introduces the efficiency benefits of traditional goods-to-person automation solutions without the expense and rigidity. The system can be deployed in almost any kind of existing or new warehouse, integrates easily with other warehouse software, and can flex and scale with changes in order volume.

In a time where workforce availability is critical and also scarce, inVia delivers an on-demand automated workforce, ready 24/7 to help warehouse managers respond to the dynamic demands of today’s e-commerce market. For companies ranging from small e-commerce vendors to large 3PL providers, a flexible, automated workforce is the best solution for today’s labor shortage and tomorrow’s labor market uncertainty.

Learn more about inVia’s RaaS model here.