Looking Into the Future: Employees vs. Automation

Warehouse manager using WMS as a 3pl solution

To some, the word ‘automation’ carries a negative connotation. Perhaps minds wander into the realm of science fiction, drumming up concerns of AI takeovers and human labor eradication. In reality, automation is moving along a very favorable path and is a word every employee, manager and executive alike should fully embrace. 

Forecasting the Future

It is estimated that 90 percent of employees are decelerated by tiresome tasks that can be easily automated. Moreover, 68 percent were found to have suffered from work overload, having too much to accomplish in too little time. This is especially true in the world of distribution where warehouse workers are often left to juggle many responsibilities and handle, on a daily basis, scores of shipments that drive considerable revenue to the company. 

In combating work overload, there are only two viable solutions. A company can either hire more employees or automate processes for greater efficiency. As we advance further into the 2020s, organizations are leaning heavily into the latter— and for good reason. It has nothing to do with an aversion to human labor, rather the four critical things that automation works to reduce:

1. Human Error

Among the most venerated skills in the human arsenal is focus. Unfortunately, we are not all that great at it. We spend about 46.9 percent of our days with our minds wandering from the tasks at hand. If that figure doesn’t come as a shock, it certainly should. This means that nearly 50 percent of the time, warehouse workers are operating dangerous machinery, sending off expensive product and tracking inventory without full focus. 

When tasks requiring heavy concentration are imposed upon workers for extended periods of time, human error is unavoidable. Not only can this impact revenue, but safety as well. Human errors are at the root of serious injuries and catastrophic workplace accidents. Incident reports show that as many as 90 percent of serious injuries have been attributed to such— mostly stemming from our unreliable ability to maintain diligent focus. Automation is implemented to overtake the responsibilities that require heavy concentration, leaving employees with more sustainable workloads.  

2. Time: The Most Valuable Commodity

To illustrate the significance of time reduction through automation, let’s evaluate a simple warehouse process. 

Let’s say you receive a shipment of 1000 units of a certain product, all of which need to be individually inducted for proper inventory tracking. If inducting manually using a spreadsheet, we can assume it will take around 12 seconds per item if done so quickly. The worker has to gather information from the product, input it into the spreadsheet and double-check the information for accuracy before moving on the next. When the process of induction is automated through technology, proper logging is as easy as simply scanning the item’s barcode— taking 2 seconds or less. 

When all is said and done, the induction of these 1000 items sees clear efficiency with an automated process, taking only 5.5 hours of human labor. On the other hand, manual induction takes over 33 hours of human labor for the same exact yield. Though just a matter of a few seconds per item, it quickly compounds causing work overload. 

3. Quality Control Issues

The human brain is a machine wielding computing power unmatched by any other existing technology. However, if you give 10 people a few seconds to memorize a 12 digit number, the majority will be unable. Such things are not a common strength.

When it comes to warehouse management, relying upon workers to keep track of random bits of floating data as would a computer will prove disappointing more often than not. Leaving technology behind, especially as your operation continues to grow will inevitably end unfavorably. Automation not only reduces the incidence of error but helps warehouse managers and workers establish efficient quality control strategies that can be scaled to accommodate growth, adding value over time.

4. Unnecessary Expenditures

The common understanding is that employees are a company’s largest expense. However, it can be argued that, in many cases, the largest expense to a company is inefficiency. Human error, time loss and substandard quality all cost a lot of money. As illustrated in the example above, automation opened up a way for the work of six individuals to be completed by a single worker. Extrapolate that information to an entire operation and figures become very large, very quickly. 

As your operation grows, a focus on automation will save considerable sums of money allowing for the purchase of more inventory and greater expansion. 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, when it comes to employees and automation through technology there is more than enough room for both to exist— in fact, they are mutually beneficial. Employees experience less strain while automated processes save time, money and reduce risk. Again, the word ‘automation’ should be at the front of every revenue-driven mind. At Sequoia Group, we have helped many businesses improve processes and significantly increase sales through our inventory management and other 3PL solutions. These 3PL solutions exploit weaknesses, streamlining workflows for a better yield. For more information on Sequoia Group solutions, call us today at 801-571-2300

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