The notion that warehouse automation will bring about an immediate thunderclap of job losses is largely debunked. But a question quickly replacing the one of mass layoffs is how will automation, specifically robotics, change the nature of warehouse work?
In addition to increasing fulfillment speed and picking accuracy, many robotics vendors claim robots also make workers' tasks more ergonomic and less repetitive. But, recent media reports regarding the frequency of reported injuries at Amazon facilities, and especially Amazon Robotics facilities, suggest robotics and worker welfare are not as correlated as early adopters may have hoped. A Reveal investigation published in December found injury rates at 23 Amazon facilities were more than double the national average for warehouse work. Amazon said the injury rates were elevated due to adamant reporting.
Leaders in the warehouse robotics space, who generally sell robotics or fulfillment as a service, have differing viewpoints on whether more robotics means a safer warehouse — and what elements make for a safer system.