The future of logistics real estate is automated.

“Automation” is one of the buzziest words in logistics today. It’s a tidal wave of innovation with promise to unlock the potential of an ever-evolving supply chain. It’s cutting-edge technology that ensures competitive advantage amid unpredictable demand and scarcity of space and labor. But automation’s true potential is a symphony of human-robot collaboration that builds resiliency though safer, more efficient operations and thriving workforces.“

It’s not about replacing your employees,” says Ian Antoniolli, operations manager at Prologis. “It’s about understanding your goals and pain points and finding thoughtful solutions that support your current teams and operations, rather than just throwing cool gadgets in.”

Prioritize people

A survey done in early 2022 revealed that 77% of supply chain personnel planned to quit their jobs. With an exodus of three-quarters of the workforce, skilled and ready workers are in short supply and retaining talent remains a top challenge to business continuity. For many employees, it’s no longer just about a paycheck. Job satisfaction and clear pathways to advancement are fundamental to competing in today’s labor crunch.

Ron Kyslinger, CEO and president of Kyslinger Consulting International, spent decades leading automation transformation at the likes of Amazon and Walmart. At GROUNDBREAKERS 2022, Prologis’ thought leadership forum, Kyslinger said he wished people would worry less about robots taking jobs and embrace how they help humans and upskill workforces.

“Running around and slugging 40-pound bags of dog food is not fun,” he says. “If robots do that, I can upskill the employee to maintain and fix the robot. And they can earn more because they’re now a technician.”

 

Picker robots and workers

Safer solutions

Another perk of automating physically taxing tasks, like hauling that 40-pound bag of dog food, is safer work environments. According to CDC data, an estimated 1.8 million employees sustained work-related injuries in 2020. The leading causes included contact with equipment and overexertion. Automation reduces interaction with heavy machinery, lowering the potential for injury and physical strain. Verve Motion’s wearable lift-assist robots are a perfect example. The company’s 3-pound robo backpack reduces strain on warehouse workers by up to 40% and cuts injury rates by up to 80%. “You should see the worker testimonials,” says Adam Grosser, chairman and managing partner at investment firm UP.Partners, a backer of the backpack. “They’re like, ‘I de-palletize 40,000 pounds a day. This has changed my life.’”

Co-bot culture

Robots make work more enjoyable, too. Companies, such as Apple, Boeing, Nestlé and Nike, have turned to global contract logistics provider GXO to help automate some of their more mundane warehouse tasks. “We actually find our retention level of team members in our automated sites is much higher,” says Malcolm Wilson, CEO of GXO, adding that the company’s warehouse bots become integrated into workplace culture: “It’s quite often that team members give them names. They become part of the team.”

The company’s warehouse bots become integrated into workplace culture: “It’s quite often that team members give them names. They become part of the team.”

Malcolm Wilson
CEO, GXO

 

Modular benefits

Options are flexible for volatile markets and run the gamut—from gravity-powered conveyor belts to autonomous mobile robotics (AMRs), which use sensors and machine vision to respond to their environment and perform tasks without supervision. AMRs are part of the increasingly popular robots-as-a-service offering, delivering adaptable support without major capital investments. “Let’s say that your order volume triples during the holidays. They will send you the next group of robots to meet a surge in demand and, after peak season, you send those bots right back,” Antoniolli says.

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