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Get on board with AMRs

07 April 2022

Labour shortages are not a blip, but have in fact reached a pivot point, says Simon Jones.

IF ANYONE thinks that the labour shortage within the supply chain, and specifically with warehouse employees, is old news they had better think again. And think again quickly.

Having experienced and survived previous labour shortages there is a risk that the current ongoing crisis is regarded as temporary – not this time! Labour shortage has reached a pivot point, not a phase in a cycle. Statistics from the United Nations, available under a Creative Commons license, show that across Europe the population is ageing, resulting in a substantial decrease in those of working age.  

Another killer statistic from Eurostat, ING Research, reveals that for supply chain companies and warehouse operators its typical demographic for potential employees - lower-skilled males aged between 25-54 years old - is already reducing faster than the average. It will be very difficult to attract enough new employees of working age, because there will simply not be enough of them to be attracted! To overcome the operating challenges resulting from increasing labour shortages supply chain companies and warehouse operators need to take action, and fast.

They should be scouring the market place for flexible warehouse automation solutions to help them cope with fewer employees. Additionally, they must be looking for solutions which can be quickly deployed to help overcome the challenge of labour shortages, in weeks and not years.

It is crucial that supply chain companies and warehouse operators consider solutions that deliver easy to use, wall-to-wall fulfilment from a combination of sophisticated AI-based fulfilment software together with autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that guide and assist the workforce to work more productively and with less physical strain. 

AMRs, such as Chuck from 6 River Systems are driven by AI enabled fulfilment software that takes the raw orders to be picked from the warehouse management system (WMS) and provides all the intelligence to sequence the picking operation in the most efficient manner. The software considers delivery times, congestion, size of products to be picked, number of staff available, and other configurable factors as required.

AMRs then guide the employee through the picking process as directed by the software, improving pick rates from 50-150%, and carries the picked products to where they need to be. This eliminates all the unproductive walking and achieves high productivity while ensuring the workforce aren’t put under pressure.

Sophisticated fulfilment software also delivers actionable insights for both management and warehouse supervisors. Dashboards provide real-time visibility into progress towards meeting the day’s cut off times, order progress from department to individual orders, labour planning to meet forecasted or actual volume and detailed insights into pick rates and the fulfilment operation.

"For supply chain companies and warehouse operators its typical demographic for potential employees - lower-skilled males aged between 25-54 years old - is already reducing faster than the average."

A survey conducted by 6 River Systems last summer showed that AMRs will help to attract new warehouse employees, from the ever-decreasing labour pool, because they reduce the physical nature of the work. Employees no longer have to push a heavy trolley for miles every day. 

AMRs also help to retain existing employees who realise the benefits they deliver. One of our US clients, Walgreens, found the deployment of AMRs to be of huge value, raising the moral of its existing workforce, who then then spread the word around their successful use of automation technology, helping to drive recruitment.

The deployment of AMRs also speeds up the training of new employees. Walgreens told us that instead of taking five days to train a new recruit, it now brings a new team member up to 80% efficiency in four to five hours.

Flexible fulfilment solutions allow businesses to scale to meet increased volume by adding the required number of AMRs. During peak periods it is possible to rent additional AMRs and return them when volume returns to normal.

So, think about how AMRs & AI flexible warehouse automation can help to overcome labour shortages now - you can be pretty sure your competitors are.

Simon Jones, Head of UK & Ireland for 6 River Systems

For more information visit, https://6river.com