Threat of Robot Warehouse Invasion Overblown

Threat of Robot Warehouse Invasion Overblown

During a couple of recent trade shows and conferences, I heard some intriguing presentations on how robots taking over warehouse worker jobs. By many accounts, venture capitalists are flocking to fund these companies. Naturally, I wanted to get a reality check from real end users and decision makers. I wanted to know, if they had decided to move to robotics, about the return on investment (ROI) they expected, as well as how they built their case and sold it to management.

Recently, during a client meeting, I asked one data-center (DC) manager, a really smart guy, about what he thought about the idea that robots would replace people. This DC is located near Boston, so worker costs are high, about $19 per hour. He also had many long-tenured workers, making them even more expensive. I figured that the hype and buzz about robots would be exciting for him. Imagine my surprise when he told me that a deployment of robots would cost nearly the same as human workers. Instead of paying supervisors to manage people, he would have to hire programmers to manage the robots—and those professionals come with a much higher price tag, with salaries in the six figure range rather than $40,000 to $60,000 per year for a warehouse supervisor. However, one programmer could manage more robots than a single supervisor with employees.

Next, he turned to the question of the way that work ebbs and flows in most warehouses. With humans, he can send people home or give people more hours depending on how much work there is to be done. Meanwhile, the deployment of robots carries a high initial price tag.

Just the same, he admitted that he would at least consider robots the next time he has to deploy a new conveyor or material handling equipment. Robots can be easily configured and/or programmed to perform different functions, a reality that is helpful in helping organizations evolve to work with changes in business

Especially in the supply chain, organizations distributing products need to regularly evaluate their businesses including technology, people, and processes, every five to seven years at minimum. Added to that, customer whims are changing at an ever quicker pace, requiring OEM’s to act even more quickly than ever before.

For businesses trying to react to peak holiday seasons, robots may offer a compelling argument, compared to hiring temporary seasonal workers. Margins become critically important, but the need for efficient and effective customer service, as well as timeliness, remains as important as ever. Often, warehouse managers call “all hands on deck” to get through the rush weeks or hire temporary workers. Some retailers have tools that are used only during holiday season by temp workers. It would be important for organizations to weigh the pros and cons of how robots might or might not help scale up during a peak.

I finally concluded after this conversation that there are no easy answers. What do you think will happen? Will robots replace human workers in the warehouse? What do you think you’ll see in your supply chain? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published at on Feb 28, 2018.

Puga Sankara is the co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC. Smart Gladiator designs, builds, and delivers market-leading mobile technology for retailers, distributors, and 3PL service providers. SG LoadProof is a patent pending Centralized Enterprise Photo/Video Document System on Cloud for Supply Chain. SG LP is built on the fact that photos & videos are vital docs as important as POs/SOs/Legal Contracts/Fulfillment Orders that reside in ERP/WMS/TMS systems, that serve as compelling, conclusive, unequivocal proof of crucial, critical, vital operations executed in Supply Chain within/across orgs when fulfilling customer orders as well as meeting contractual obligations between orgs as merchandise is transferred between different parties that partake in Supply Chain functions & operations. And these photos/videos data should not be stored in someone’s Smartphone or Email Inbox or in their personal/work Computer, but should be stored in a Centralized Enterprise system, where such data can be pushed into super-fast, stored securely, accessible to all stake holders (CFO/Sales Reps/Customer Support/AR/AP) in an org, as well as facilitates super-fast retrieval/sharing. LP is an Enterprise System of record for Photo/Video docs & is as important as an ERP which is an enterprise system of record for POs, SOs, Legal Contracts between parties etc. that have huge legal ramifications, also as important as a WMS (Warehouse Management System) that hold indispensable shipment & fulfillment data on orders. Like how Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc. have evolved into social media platforms/systems that enable individuals to showcase their beauty/pretty clothes/lovely cosmetics/hep coolness etc., LoadProof is an Enterprise system that holds similar photos/videos, but for a different reason, not for show off, but to serve as compelling, conclusive, unequivocal & indisputable system of record and proof that can be presented even in the court of law, when there is a dispute between parties while they execute many facets of the Supply Chain functions & operations. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 25 years of experience in deploying capabilities in the logistics and supply chain domain. His prior roles involved managing complicated mission-critical programs driving revenue numbers, rolling out a multitude of capabilities involving more than a dozen systems, and managing a team of 30 to 50 personnel across multiple disciplines and departments in large corporations such as Hewlett Packard. He has deployed WMS for more than 30 distribution centers in his role as a senior manager with Manhattan Associates. He has also performed process analysis walk-throughs for more than 50 distribution centers for WMS process design and performance analysis review, optimizing processes for better productivity and visibility through the supply chain. Size of these DCs varied from 150,000 to 1.2 million SQFT. Puga Sankara has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit the company at Also follow him at