Will machines take people’s work in warehouses?

It has been said that the implementation of the idea of ​​Industry 4.0, including Warehouses 4.0, may lead to a serious reduction in the number of jobs. Automation and robotisation raise many concerns. But is it right? Will machines actually take jobs away from people?

The fact is that machines could take our jobs now: we could be working much shorter hours even today. Why is this not happening? Because the use of modern technologies requires a change of mentality.

The fourth industrial revolution

Currently, we cannot imagine a situation where a full-time working day lasts 4 hours and a working week only 3 or 4 days. We are no different from our ancestors who, back in the 19th century, could not have imagined that it is enough to work only 8 hours a day and spend the rest of your time on relaxation or entertainment.

Giving the working class free time (a concept unknown in previous centuries) was expected to cause the collapse of the economy and the destruction of social order. Today, similar concerns are raised by the idea of replacing manual labor with machines. The inevitable finale will be, or actually is, a revolution – the fourth industrial revolution.

Regardless of the attitude to robotisation, the fact is that it will continue and gradually warehouses will become darker – there will be more stores of the dark store model [link do artykułu Dark Store. Supermarket with no customers] and people won’t even know where those facilities are. They won’t need to know because they won’t have to go to the stores to stock up on the goods they need – from fresh rolls for breakfast to a new car. Some may remark that trading is already working like this. True, but it’s about scale – trading in a stationary model will completely cease.

What are the benefits of automating warehouse processes?

Warehouse automation is progressing because it brings real business benefits. Here are the most important of them:

  • optimisation of labor costs – robots replace people in the most onerous, monotonous and dangerous work, and at the same time do not get wages and social benefits – robots are the cheapest workforce,
  • increase in efficiency – robots are able to work practically non-stop, with only short breaks for maintenance and necessary repairs, they are not subject to labor laws and are not limited by physiology: they do not have to rest, take holidays and do not take sick leave,
  • improving the quality and safety of work – robots do not make mistakes, do not get distracted, and, as a result, do not create hazardous situations – even if a collision occurs, only machines are involved, so the damage is relatively small,
  • ecological aspect – a machine does not make unnecessary runs, does not waste energy, and it can work in complete darkness, in high and low temperatures (saving heating and cooling costs), a machine is much more ecological than humans and generates a disproportionately lower carbon footprint,
  • improvement in the use of space – warehouse automation systems, for example, the AutoStore system [link do artykułu AutoStore], allow more than a  70% increase in the efficient use of warehouse space,
  • ongoing monitoring of all warehouse processes – when warehouses are operated by robots, there is no possibility of losing goods: you can get an instant answer to a question about the location of goods and the amount of inventory,
  • independence from the situation on the labor market – if you use robots, the functioning of the warehouse, and thus often also sales and production processes, is independent of the situation on the labor market: your electronic staff is always ready for action, and you can scale it to current needs. You are also freed from the time-consuming recruitment and training of employees.

Should you be afraid of losing your job?

There is no doubt that robotisation and automation will lead to a reduction in the number of jobs related to the uncomplicated, physical work in a warehouse. However, new jobs will be created in their place – there will be new specialties and new professions. People entering the labor market will have to acquire skills which are currently not very common, such as basic programming skills or supervision over a fleet of intelligent machines. Less optimistic forecasts indicate that in the near future the labor market will become discriminatory in terms of competences. Employees with appropriate skill set will easily find a well-paid job. On the other hand, the demand for a low-skilled workforce will decline sharply.

Currently, it is difficult to predict the social and economic outcomes of warehouse robotisation. It is certain that this is an inevitable process. There is also no doubt that implementing robots in warehouses has great business potential, which may be used more and more effectively by companies.