Will Next Day Delivery with Warehouse Robots Take Over Jobs?
Is your company about to be beaten by robotic competitors? Even the greatest and most efficient warehouse operation could be in jeopardy today – because of Kiva.
Traditional warehouse operations are designed to direct warehouse workers to product and allow easy picking, packing and shipping of products. A network of shelving and conveyors help the workers to find products quickly, consolidate orders, and then accurately package and ship the items to their destination.
In his days at the now defunct Webvan, Mick Mountz saw the company’s demise on the horizon because of the enormous costs associated with warehouse operations. Mountz had an epiphany after Webvan that if there was a way to bring the product to the worker – instead of the worker to the product – costs would be reduced substantially while improving service delivery capabilities.
After a great deal of brainstorming and help from a variety of investors, Mountz founded Kiva. This company utilizes warehouse robots to bring products to the worker.
The Kiva warehouse robots are slightly larger than a robotic home vacuum cleaner, and much stronger and intelligent. By utilizing a series of navigational routes installed on the warehouse floor with QR codes and readers, the Kiva warehouse robots are told by the warehouse management system (WMS) where to drive under the appropriate mobile shelving unit. The robot picks up the unit with a screw-lift device , and brings the unit to the warehouse worker to pick up the product and place it into the box. Through the combination of a robust WMS and built-in intelligence with the Kiva units, the system can operate with only 20% of the normal warehouse staffing while maintaining higher levels of quality and output.
Amazon has acquired Kiva and is implementing the system in its warehouses across the country. Kiva is also being used in operations such as Walgreens, Staples, and more. This launched a new level of competition to provide same day delivery services to customers. Retailers such as WalMart and eBay have joined in the same day delivery fray by offering their own improved systems to compete and deliver this service.
This raises labor concerns for warehouse workers, who may see jobs dwindling. But there are advantages to warehouse workers like reduced injuries, less labor intensive tasks, and accuracy for Kiva is near perfect at over 99.7%. A whole new set of career opportunities will arise from this same day delivery battle. Frankly, this raises the bar in both efficiency and capacity. We will see more need for delivery drivers, systems management and engineers as the robots become integrated into other types of industries.
With Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva it is hard to say if the services will continue to be shared with other businesses that may compete directly with Amazon. Typically, Amazon has been a very open and sharing organization with a culture built around “the rising tide will raise all ships.” In any case, if Kiva is not specifically used, there will eventually be other warehouse robots to compete with Kiva.
This new technology will change service delivery standards for warehouses as it becomes more widely adopted. It is worth a closer look so that you can leverage this technology before the robots become your competitor.
How do you feel about robots in the warehouses? Are you a user of Kiva Systems? It would be great to hear from you!