Surviving the Labor Shortage in Manufacturing with ASRS

This is probably not news to you (I mean, you are here after all) but there's a growing labor shortage in manufacturing and it's full effects are yet to be felt.  

Baby boomers are ages 51 – 69 right now and retirement for those who are lucky is 60, 65 for most and upwards of 70 for some. So we have to find a way to keep them working and happy – after all this is where the real expertise lies.  I mean who knows the XYZs better than anyone – Tom in the warehouse because he’s worked for your organization for 30+ years.  He’s an invaluable resource.

So we have a good portion of the workforce that needs to work for another 10 years.

Do you remember, not long ago (between the end of World War II in 1946 and 1964), and in this very galaxy (the U.S. to be exact), 76 million babies were born — the baby boomer generation. Do you employ people in this generation? Or perhaps you’re part of this generation yourself?

 

In 2003, 82 percent of boomers were part of the labor force; a decade later, that number has declined to 66 percent, and it will only continue to fall. The steep decline in available workers poses a challenge and is creating a current and future labor shortage in manufacturing . There simply aren’t as many willing and able individuals as needed to fill job openings in manufacturing, material handling and logistics, as The U.S. Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics noted:

…the retirement of baby boomers will substantially dampen growth in the labor force for the next decade. Although not unique to material handling and logistics, this issue is especially pressing because so many current workers are close to retirement.

Further, as retiring baby boomers take their unique skills with them, replacing them with new workers of equivalent skill sets has proven difficult. A survey of manufacturers found that 67% report a severe labor shortage of qualified workers—a trend that 56% of respondents expect to worsen over the next decade. The same survey estimated 5% of American manufacturing jobs (600,000 positions) remain open due to a lack of qualified candidates.

To compensate for these two workforce challenges—fewer workers and the skills gap—more companies are investing in automated solutions. These technologies help to both reduce the physical demands of warehouse activities, as well as streamline and organize the required tasks for better productivity with fewer workers.

First let’s talk options:

 

Now, how do these automated solutions bridge the gap for the aging labor force?

 

Elimination of travel time. 

In a conventional storage system, manual fulfillment can account for as much as 60-65% of a workers’ time. However, with automation, goods are brought directly to the worker operating on the “goods to person” principle. This eliminates the need to walk and search for a part within the warehouse, saving time and increasing productivity. Although we know most baby boomers like their daily walks, taking them at work isn’t good for productivity.

Improved Ergonomics.

Stop making your workers bend down to retrieve an item or climb a ladder to reach the highest shelf. This is just an accident or workers comp claim waiting to happen. Instead, automated solutions deliver goods to an operator at an ergonomic height, known as the “golden zone” which is waist height. No more bending and reaching, thus eliminating those worker injuries.

 

Reduction of search time.

Ever wonder how much time it takes for someone to find the correct item to pick once they reach the storage location? Probably longer than you want to know. Automated storage and retrieval systems can be equipped with light-directed technology to quickly and easily guide the operator to the appropriate pick location. Eliminating all of that search time and boosting accuracy.

 

Error prevention.

The opportunity for human error is pretty significant in a manual picking operation. Not only do automated solutions have indicator lights, as mentioned previously, they also can be integrated with message center to communicate with the operator. This tells the operator the exact part number and quantity to be picked.

 

Optimized picks.

It can be difficult for an individual operator to manually pick more than one order at a time, resulting in maybe 50 lines per hour. For faster throughput, dynamic storage solutions utilize inventory management software to sequence picks which results in faster picking times. In addition, batch picking, grouping orders with common items together can increase throughput by as much as 200%!

 

Fast training.

A temporary worker unfamiliar with a facility’s layout can be stationed at an automated storage and retrieval system for highly productive picking after just a brief introduction to the equipment.

All of these functions can optimize an existing labor force, increasing productivity from 200% to 600%. Because an automated solution enables just one worker to handle the picking assignments of multiple operators, as many as two-thirds of a facility’s workforce can be reassigned to other, non-picking tasks, without a loss of throughput. Alternately, implementing these automated storage solutions can compensate for a scarce and declining labor pool—a trend that will only progress as baby boomers continue to retire, and take their valuable skills with them.

And Gosh Darnit, People Like It.

Dynamic storage solutions can be considered attractive and a lot of these products are innovative at their very core. If your facility is perceived as high tech, perhaps you could also attract a younger labor force for the long term and stave off this labor shortage.  May the labor force be with you!   

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