It’s no secret that manufacturers and warehouse facilities are tasked with keeping up with the rapid growth of e-commerce and the expansion of global sourcing. At the same time, the labor market has struggled to keep up with the demand for additional workers.
Therefore, many employees are tasked with doing more with less. They also face the challenge of multitasking while maintaining high health and safety standards.
With the severe shortage of qualified workers in the logistics and supply chain industries, simply hiring additional staff to meet demand is no longer a viable option. As a result, many facilities are turning to automation and robotics as solutions to supplement worker fatigue and help meet productivity, quality and cost pressures.
Automation and robotics allow these companies to address chronic talent shortages by focusing their employees on more valuable and complex activities and decisions. Here are four ways technology can help.
1. Address worker fatigue and burnout
To meet these challenges, many companies are turning to automated cleaning solutions. For cleaning crews who work around the clock, adding a floor-wiping robot can bring benefits to employees and warehouse facility managers.
A typical manual scrubber requires employees to walk behind or ride on the floor cleaner. This is a lot of time that could be better spent elsewhere. And, when covering a fixed amount of warehouse space, employees may work extended hours to perform repetitive tasks.
By equipping cleaning staff with autonomous mopping robots, companies can reduce employee workload and fatigue while improving cleaning standards. This allows employees to focus on higher-value work and hopefully helps reduce the likelihood of burnout.
2. Provide regulators with measurable data
In highly regulated industries such as food processors, drug manufacturers and medical device suppliers, keeping distribution centers and manufacturing environments clean is critical to doing business.
Many variables must be considered, including:
- Keep products sterile and free of dust, contaminants and bacteria;
- Ensuring that cleaning staff and workers adhere to industry-wide disinfection and cleaning process safety rules and standards; and
- Provide employees with a safe and clean work environment.
The consequences of not adhering to industry cleaning regulations can lead to production line shutdowns, or worse, facility closures that further hinder productivity.
Manual floor scrubbers are instructed by operators and report their performance. However, advanced robotic floor cleaners can quantify and identify what, when, and how much is cleaned, as well as what and why not.
With advanced robotic solutions, cleaning schedules will be unique to the facility and free from human error. Determine the best cleaning route to maximize productivity while minimizing human intervention by leveraging a suite of onboard sensors to compare facilities to the original cleaning schedule in real-time.
Some autonomous scrubbing robots come with software that allows you to track the robot. For example, with some robotic floor cleaners, each cleaning operation can be monitored, measured and optimized over a period of time. This reliable and measurable cleaning is especially important in a highly regulated industry, as data can be easily shared with cleaning auditors or regulators.
3. Provide advanced workplace safety
Warehouses and manufacturing facilities are not only concerned with reporting and maintaining cleanliness standards. Safety metrics on injuries and incidents must also be reported and tracked to comply with OSHA regulations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), private industry employers reported 2.7 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2020. In addition, the BLS reports that overwork; touching objects or equipment; slips, trips, and falls account for more than half of all non-fatal injuries and illnesses involving vacation days.
Today, these risks can be easily mitigated through automation; however, some warehouses and 3PLs continue to delay implementing this advancement. While traditional automated equipment such as pallet jacks and material handlers are limited to fixed paths and people avoid placing products or equipment on these paths, today’s automation technology has come a long way and has come a long way .
Advanced robots are truly autonomous, determining the safest and most efficient path based on the real-time location of obstacles. This is especially important in manufacturing and warehouse facilities, which are inherently high-risk environments.
Employees must remain vigilant when traversing blind lanes, narrow passages, and other people and equipment that move around crowded aisles 24 hours a day. Modern autonomous floor scrubbers are likely to be equipped with robust designs, safety features and advanced artificial intelligence systems. These types of robots may include:
- Leading 3D cameras, lasers and sensors to avoid collisions;
- Programmable “slowdown zones” to protect personnel, inventory and equipment; and
- Directional safety lighting for safe navigation around employees, equipment and blind corners.
These enhancements enable modern automation that can make today’s workplace safer for employees and devices. A safer work environment reduces employee absenteeism due to injury and product loss from preventable accidents, thereby increasing overall productivity.
4. Higher productivity and employee satisfaction
An often overlooked consideration in implementing a robotic cleaning solution is the benefits to employees of cleaning the environment. Of course, maintaining cleanliness standards for items stored in a warehouse or produced in a manufacturing environment is important. However, employees also value working in a clean environment they can trust, which allows them to focus on their work and not worry about the air they breathe.
Robotic floor cleaners are particularly effective at removing dust and other airborne particles, which can significantly improve air quality and reduce allergies. It also helps improve employee morale and retention.
A clean work environment isn’t just good for employees; other robots appreciate it, too. For automated guided vehicles and forklifts to function properly and efficiently, warehouse floors need to be free of large amounts of dust and debris. Otherwise, AGVs that get on and off the same track every day could slip.
Without a clean track, tires can slip and burn before a typical maintenance schedule, requiring the vehicle to be taken out of service.Downtime like this can be a burden on productivity, not to mention a serious security risk
In some cases, warehouses are even equipped with robotic floor cleaners that work with automated guided vehicles to keep floors free of large amounts of dust that can affect performance. Automation is an increasingly viable part of the productivity and efficiency of warehouses around the world. Employees and other self-driving vehicles are starting to demand automation of cleaning processes.
A growing number of warehouses and manufacturers are making connections that automation can improve metrics, improve safety and increase employee workplace satisfaction. Clean automation technology benefits companies by enhancing their business now and in the future.
Faizan Sheikh is CEO and Co-Founder crazy robot, A company that designs, manufactures and services autonomous cleaning robots.