I, Human: The Reality of Robots
Last week, 60 Minutes aired a segment about robots and how they’re taking the jobs of human beings. It briefly recounts the history of robots portrayed in popular culture throughout the decades leading up to the real-life, practical applications of robotics in the modern era. The segment illustrated the use of robotics in a few industries including health care as well as our own industry, order fulfillment and logistics.
Interestingly, the science experts emphasized that the robotic revolution not only includes articulating equipment, but also computers. That’s because properly used computers and software make people more productive and can support unlimited scalability.
At MDC, we handle a massive number of constantly changing items, with each one having a limited quantity. Product turns over at previously unheard of speed. This is not the environment for inflexible robots, but it is the environment best suited for a computer driven, manned, operation.
The distribution operation with 69 robots and 110 people described in the interview was capable of shipping 10,000 units a day. In our computer driven operation, a staff of less than 50 comfortably receives, inventories, picks, packs and ships a minimum of over 10,000 units every working day. Robots are good at repetitive tasks, but there is nothing repetitive in flash sales fulfillment. There are simply too many skus to make it effective to drag entire sections of shelving across a warehouse to pull one item of a multiline order, and then drag the same section back.
While the robots certainly looked sexy, there are much more effective ways to handle the orders. One must analyze the entire order flow and develop the systems to optimize every step of the process. Our custom warehouse management system (WMS), with its design flexibility, is the key to tailoring solutions to the fulfillment idiosyncrasies of complex ecommerce.