Staci Americas Blog

How Human-Robot Interaction Creates a More Humane Workplace

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Whether you view warehouse robots as the Terminator or R2D2 depends on the degree of personal human-robot interaction you’ve had.

“Seeing is believing,” says Kait Peterson, Senior Director, Product Marketing at Locus Robotics. You have to touch, feel and see the technology to understand how it improves work environments. Once people do, she says they’re all in on robots, naming them and thinking of them as their autonomous friends around the warehouse.

Prior to experiencing this human-robot interaction, it’s easy for the uninitiated to have reservations. Among them: “Is the robot is going to take my job?” and “Is it going to run me over?”

“No” and “No” are the short answers. We’ll go into more detail on why as we explore how working with robots changes things for human warehouse workers. Insights are based on robot deployment at Staci Americas, now part of the Staci worldwide network of fulfillment centers.


Fear and Mistrust Quickly Fades

Workers’ first concerns about cobots are of collisions – with people, carts or forklifts. But they quickly learn how adept cobots are at going around people and things. They actually “see” better than humans.

According to Locus, the robots include multiple, redundant sensors that continually monitor their surroundings, speed, payload size/weight, and acceleration force.

Jim Perry, the General Manager of Staci Americas' Lawrenceville facility, noticed that any initial reservations among workers quickly transforms to an efficient coexistence. “New associates tend to politely sidestep the bots. My tenured people go about their business knowing the bot will always get out of the way.”

As a result, Perry says cobots have been easy to integrate into the flow of the building.


Warehouse Workers Benefit Most

In Staci Americas' Lawrenceville, GA fulfillment center, cobots travel between zones and to packout stations while associates stay put. That leads to less walking and exertion (as well as 35% higher productivity).

Without cobots, Staci Americas associates walk four to five miles a day at minimum. Working alongside cobots cuts that distance 80%.

Sparing warehouse associates from sore feet and exertion has been transformative. Peterson recounts a story of one warehouse associate who said that working with cobots gave her back the energy at the end of the day she needed “to be the mother she was supposed to be.”

Perry says cobots are especially appreciated during the Georgia summer. “On hot days, associates don’t leave at the end of the day exhausted and feeling like they just ran a marathon.”


Cobots Do the Jobs Workers Don’t Want

Far from stealing jobs from warehouse workers, cobots are performing the manual, repetitive work that warehouse associates don’t miss. Manually pulling pick carts that can weigh up to 300 lbs. and walking miles a day can be dull and repetitive work that wears on associates.

This type of work is also time-consuming. Focusing all attention on these tasks, means less time for other, more stimulating work like performing value-added services, process improvement or customer care.

According to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey, 8% of hourly workers who recently quit jobs said they did so because their job was not enjoyable or interesting. Making cobots do the boring work makes a lot of sense when you consider that it can cost up to $10,000 to replace a single warehouse worker.


Cobots Improve Safety at Fulfillment Centers

A University of Pittsburgh study published in Labour Economics found that German workplaces that uses robots had 5% less injuries.

Safety is a priority for warehouse workers. 8.4% of hourly workers who recently quit jobs blame unsafe or unhealthy work environments, according to the BCG survey.

Cobots like the ones Staci Americas uses keep human coworkers safer through sensors and safety systems that prevent collisions.

By pulling and carrying heavy products, Staci Americas' cobots spare associates from strains and other injuries. They also relieve associates from repetitive actions that can cause stress injuries.


Cobots’ Accuracy Adds to Job Satisfaction

Employee retention has much to do with workers’ perceptions of how well they’re performing. Workers want to feel like they’re doing a good job and, in a pick and pack environment, a good job equates to order accuracy. Cobots help ensure accuracy rates of 99.9+%.

Cobots’ on-screen instructions show the picker exactly what item to pick and how many. Then when the picker scans the item, the system flags any incorrect picks.

Especially during onboarding, mistakes shake workers’ confidence. Cobots promote a feeling of mastery that inspires confidence – and less stress. Workers get immediate encouragement from their success and can turn their attention to continuously improving their speed and performance.


Cobots Are the Ultimate Training Solution

Training can be frustrating to workers who just want to work, and to employers who just want associates to learn the job and become productive.

With cobots, Perry says new associates can learn the job and get to work within 10 minutes – versus a week of training, which was the standard pre-cobot, he says.

The reason is that cobots’ touch screens are intuitive to the extreme. The cobot pulls right up to where the product is stored and the screen displays the product information as well as a picture of the item to be picked.

For non-English-speaking associates, cobots can be programmed to communicate in their native tongue. Staci Americas' cobots are fluent in four languages but could handle dozens of other languages, if needed.

“We have a very large Spanish-speaking population here, so it’s easy to get these associates up and running fast. The bot tells them what they’re looking for and where it’s supposed to be,” Perry says.

Finding your way to products in a facility as large as Staci Americas' Lawrenceville facility is the hardest challenge for newbies, Perry says. Cobots eliminate that frustration by doing the traveling for them.


Robots Are Great for Recruitment

A job picking and packing is one thing, but a job utilizing leading-edge technology for picking and packing is another thing altogether. A fulfillment operation that employs robots and real-time display dashboards scores points with generations raised on tech.

Abe Eshkenazi, CEO of the Association for Supply Chain Management, states in Supply Chain Dive, “Showcasing how smart technology enables warehouses can spur more interest from potential employees, particularly if companies can show clear upward career mobility for people that work with the technology.”

The opportunity to work with robots, the platforms that direct their use and the data that robots produce teaches new skills that young people value and can lead to career growth.


Cobots Help Lower Employee Turnover

With cobots doing the traveling, cart-pulling and warehouse navigating, associates like their jobs more.

A sign of this is that employee retention has been noticeably higher in Staci Americas' group that works with cobots.

“It has helped turnover compared to other areas of the building that don’t utilize cobots,” Perry observes.

With industrywide turnover among warehouse workers at 49%, cobots can play a significant role in creating an environment associates want to stay in.


Human-Robot Interaction Holds the Keys

In eCommerce fulfillment operations, there’s no putting robots back in the box. The challenge of finding and keeping quality associates will make robots a staple in high-volume, pick and pack fulfillment centers.

Cobots coordinating with human associates to efficiently churn out accurate orders provide the ideal solution – for the people doing the work and the people receiving the goods. Talk to a Staci Americas expert about how working with a tech-forward fulfillment partner can give you the benefits of warehouse automation – without the capital investment.


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