Robots are all around us. They are delivering room service, vacuuming your floors, and even showing up for work to stock shelves. Restaurants are placing small monitors on tables so customers can re-order drinks and pay their bills. When you order a drink from McDonalds, workers place empty cups under drink dispensers, and they automatically fill them up to the top while employees do other tasks. In the healthcare industry robots are operating with precision on human beings as physicians instruct them from another room.
You have probably heard about the electronic labor force at Amazon; There are thousands of robots in warehouses across the country. Robots made by Kiva Systems (Amazon bought the company for $775 million in 2012), are being used to better handle the avalanche of orders placed every second. The robots bring shelves of goods from storage and carry them straight to human workers to process.
I read that Amazon employees were complaining about walking 15 miles a day to retrieve goods for orders; they don’t have any problem with robots handling that part of their job. Also, with the introduction of delivery drones into the supply chain, a new level of customer service is possible.
As a small business owner, you may think robots are too expensive for your organization. But times are changing, and there are inexpensive robots (as low as $20,000) called collaborative robots (cobots) that are working with employees instead of replacing them. These robots have a smaller footprint, are very mobile and are considerably kinder to humans. Armed with safety sensors that keep them from running into bodies, the little bots perform a variety of tasks.
Unlike their ancestors, the giant industrial robots bolted to a single location who work assembly lines, cobots roam free on warehouse floors. Interestingly, studies show that small businesses that use robots increase productivity, which in turn requires them to hire more humans to handle additional business and complete tasks that robots cannot handle.
For small businesses, keeping margins low is the path to profitability. There is no need to outsource work to foreign lands and cheaper labor if cobots work more efficiently in their warehouses. Delegating repetitive work to cobots on the night shift means when employees come to work in the morning, their work is ready to process.
Warehouse robots may be the least sexy members of the robot family until you view the bottom line. The market research firm Tractica predicts that companies around the world will spend $22.4 billion on warehouse robots by 2021.
The adage make it cheaper, better, or faster still stands. Leveraging technology to save costs and reduce errors is a wise path for any size business; however, small businesses need to think of innovative ways to compete with big box distributors.
Please share in the comments below how you view robot technology and if it has a place in your small business.
Business Management International (BMI) is all about bringing business technology to distributors to help them compete. We’re not afraid to offer radically great customer service and proudly offer Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, Dynamics NAV, and Acumatica to solve real-world business problems. www.bmiusa.com.