3PLs are leveraging emerging technologies to respond to consumer demands (read my 3PL Americas article on the topic), but what’s the role of robotics?

Unlike automotive manufacturing, a full robot army in a distribution center is neither possible nor practical. A recently opened, large 1.3m sq ft Amazon warehouse featuring extensive automation and Kiva robots still required hiring over 2,000 direct labor associates.

The human touch is obvious and necessary in the way many orders are packed and processed. Especially in fashion and beauty customers notice the care that is taken in wrapping and fitting their products into the box. Seasonal promotions may require that inserts or product samples are added. QA alerts on certain items may suddenly require 100 percent inspection.

This “last touch” dynamic is best handled by real-time human intelligence and dexterity. With robotics, the goal is not to eliminate jobs but to create a smarter warehouse with better productivity , throughput and safety. Automation-resistant workers will be won over when they see robots used for repetitive tasks that they dislike—such as unloading a floor-loaded trailer or container—as well as for jobs that are dirty, dangerous or difficult.

Technology is an easier sell to the growing number of Millennials. This tech-friendly group, which grew up with computers and smart phones, already comprises the largest share of the American workforce and is predicted to total 50 percent of the U.S. workers by 2020.

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