Hello and welcome to the first post of this blog! I am excited to start this project as I’ve always looked for articles written by the “everyday guy or gal” that would discuss supply chain in “Layman’s Terms” and not try to fluff it up like it was a magazine article or something (which is where I read most of them)! I’m writing this to diversify my knowledge of supply chain, but also to hopefully help some of my fellow supply chain maniacs out there find a place to understand topics in the simplest form and find a light-hearted read that most of us all deserve. This is a place to spitball new ideas, interesting facts, new fads in the supply chain space, and really just have a good time, drink some beer, and talk about supply chain!
Now that I’ve mentioned beer, I should admit that I really love Supply Chain, but I also love beer! And, because no debate has ever gotten out of hand when a few beers were indulged, I’m going to keep this conversation fluid. I’m not here to dive into statistics or solve global-supply chain problems. I’m here writing and you’re here reading because supply chain is sometimes boring, it’s dirty, it’s complicated, and sometimes you just want to sit around and shoot the sh*t with some of your fellow colleagues and talk shop, just like mechanics, and doctors, and lawyers , Etc…
So, sit back and relax and enjoy some good conversation (and beer) involving supply chain. Speaking of beer, today I’m writing while enjoying a nice Snapper, which is an IPA from Logboat Brewery in Columbia, MO. I like it because it’s not too “spicy” like some other IPAs I’ve had, but it’s also 7.2% alcohol; meaning I might make heavier use of spell check as I get further into this. It’s also a good “sipping beer” and I would highly recommend it to someone who might enjoy light beers but also want to explore IPAs. With that said, I’m going to keep it pretty simple today and talk about something that keeps me up at night; Robots! I recently heard robots will be in over 50,000 warehouses, worldwide, by 2025. Seriously, these things are taking over the world. I swear someone better set up a “master off” switch or we’re all in trouble!
In all seriousness, I just went to a conference and one topic was on robots in the distribution environment. It seems to me that they are best suited for large, flat warehouses with few picks over a large pick area. They essentially serve as “runners” for traditional human pickers who stay relatively stationary while the robots do all the leg work. Because I doubt these little R2-D2s know how to go up and down stairs efficiently, it would seem to me the warehouse will need to be flat. This eliminates the option for most multi-level warehouses or operations that have pick modules that represent multiple, pickable levels. The obvious geographic area where these types of flat, single-level warehouses would be is where land is the lowest cost- i.e. Rural Areas. You heard it here first folks, these robots are going out and stealing rural-American’s jobs!! (MARFA!!- “Make America Robot Free Again!”). I only kid, though. It should be noted the jobs are usually the ones most people don’t want and that consistently have had high turnover as the economy and industry improve.
It should also be noted that, as far as I know, the robots have yet to form unions and I am not aware of any labor laws specifically targeted toward fair treatment of robots. Because of this, one could probably run them multiple shifts in a row, and they would probably need to in order to recoup one’s investment. In the end, it would seem that right now you would need a flatter warehouse, low picks within a large pick area, and multiple shifts to run the robots to make them successful. I should admit though, how often has your robot skipped work to attend a sporting event, or had too many beers writing supply chain blogs and decided to call in sick the next day? I’m going to guess 0, which is why the reliability factor might add some value when considering the cost.
Finally, I can’t help but always keep in the back of my mind the emergence and dominance of online retailers. As more and more warehouses serve to process for this type of business, it means pickers are processing many orders at low order quantities and $ value and running around a giant warehouse to do it. Perhaps this is more of a balancing technique and we won’t see workers losing their jobs as much as we will see robots supplementing some of the dirty work to keep costs down and keep distribution expense in line with what we’ve seen historically.
One thing I do wonder though- How many times do you think people in the warehouse have done “The Robot” dance in front of the robots, practically taunting them? Again folks, it’s only a matter of time before these creatures catch on to our antics and there is a dance off right there on the warehouse floor! My money is on the little metal guy.
Well, all this talk about robots has gotten me a little short circuited! It’s time for a nap and for you all to have a wonderful weekend. Welcome to the blog and, as always, Cheers!
Featured beer: www.logboatbrewing.com