Sunday, June 06, 2021

Warehouses Look to Robots to Fill Labor Gaps, Speed Deliveries

Logistics automation companies say demand has grown during the pandemic as companies cope with big swings in volume and a tight hiring market

By Jennifer Smith of The WSJ. It is not clear that this is an  example of structural unemployment, when workers are replaced by machines because it says that companies are having a hard time finding workers. Excerpts:

"The robots are coming to labor-strapped North American warehouses.

Growing numbers of self-driving machines are shuttling clothing and sports equipment down warehouse aisles, pulling bins of groceries, cosmetics and industrial parts from high stacks and handing off goods to human workers to help deliver orders faster. Some logistics operators are testing forklifts that can be operated from remote locations, allowing employers in tight labor markets to draw from a geographically broader pool of workers.

The push toward automation comes as businesses say they can’t hire warehouse workers fast enough to meet surging online demand for everything from furniture to frozen food in pandemic-disrupted supply chains. The crunch is accelerating the adoption of robots and other technology in a sector that still largely relies on workers pulling carts."

Examples include:

-autonomous tractors that tow carts loaded with pallets
-an automated storage and retrieval system set to go online this fall that uses robots to fetch goods packed closely together in dense rows of stacks.
-remote-operated forklifts equipped with technology . . . that drivers can operate remotely
"Logistics-automation companies say demand for their technology has grown during the pandemic as companies look for ways to cope with big swings in volume when workers are scarce and social distancing requirements limit building occupancy."
"Many logistics employers say they can’t add enough staff to keep pace with strong demand as the U.S. economy emerges from the pandemic."

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