The Robots Have Arrived: You’re Fired!


That’s the fear, isn’t it? I think that this prediction is half right. The robots are coming, so brace yourself. Whether we like it or not, the robots are coming. However, I don’t think those robots are going to be taking over our jobs any time soon. We’re not looking at artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) that have reached sophistication where robots can take over our world. I just don’t see that happening.

In the United States, we’ve seen some of the benefits of these technologies and the attendant automation. We also have built a culture of people who want to work. I don’t foresee a future where we send almost all of the humans home, leaving a few CEOs, like those at Amazon, Walmart, Costco and Boeing, to run everything using an army of robots. We have created complex systems and infrastructures in place—and they depend on the current economic systems. Perhaps someday, we’ll develop a basic income arrangement to make sure that people are funded to get what they need, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

Instead of solving that issue, let’s look at how the advent of robotics will impact warehouse managers and supply chain executives. There are things we need to know, and ways we can plan for the changes. Technology costs for many technologies, from semiconductor chips to computing power, have come down significantly. It’s possible to deploy robots affordable, if a few challenges can be addressed.


Integration, although a pretty significant effort, can be done. Hire the right experts, and you can, by investing time and money, get to where you want to be. In the not too distant future, many vendors will have the inbuilt integration with various types of robots available. Take a look at just about any technology trade show and you’ll see a market that is crowded with up and coming offerings.  If you want to take up that integration as one of the first guinea pigs, you can, but be ready to learn along with them and set aside some budget for learning as part of the project. Eventually, a handful of leaders will shake out and set the standards.


Infrastructure is next on the priority list, since infrastructure promotes efficiency. Interconnection over a 5 GHz WiFi network, for example, will allow robots to perform tasks (such as carrying merchandise) while still tracking where all the other robots are. Other robots need sophisticated vision systems to work, which requires, as a basic, very good lighting and color-coded racks, bin locations, and assembly lines. The advanced algorithms needed for robotic functioning are CPU intensive, which leads to a demand for powerful smart batteries, fast charging technology, automatic docking capabilities and more. Some important questions:

  • How long does it take to charge these robots?
  • How are you going to handle that downtime, ensuring work is done during that time?
  • Will you need two robots to replace each person to ensure 100% uptime?

Certain systems will become non-negotiable: a warehouse management system (WMS), a warehouse control system (WCS), or enterprise resource management system (ERP).  Make sure the system you choose now has the sophistication and integration capabilities to be compatible with robots when you need it.

Not One Size Fits All

When tackling technology questions, it’s important to start with the end in mind. What problem are you trying to solve? Are robots the right answer to solving that problem? Get to the root of the problem. For example, labor shortages can be traced to not enough people, but might also be related to absenteeism. Figure out the real impact of the problem. For example, measure the problem in terms of delivering to service level agreements (SLAs) with customers. Next, plan out the best solution you can imagine. Could robots solve part or all the problem? Find out how other industries and organizations have leveraged the technology successfully. Start slow, by testing the technology in a limited way (think crawl, walk, run then fly). Measure the results and implement accordingly.


Today, only organizations with large volumes have a business case that will make robots make sense. It takes this kind of scale to achieve reasonable return on investment (ROI). It’s also important to measure based on the minimum workload rather than peak. Unlike employees, robots can’t be sent home if there’s no work to be done.


Like any machinery, robots demand ongoing care and maintenance. Predictive maintenance is critical to minimize downtime. Factor in the cost of on-site service engineers or a service contract. Also consider how readily the use of the robots can be reconfigured to address business changes.

Before investing in robots

Especially in the warehouse environment, there are some ways to refresh the effectiveness of your processes to reduce the need to automate via robot. Consider:

  • Optimizing your pick path to minimize travel. Also, continually reevaluate and optimize your travel path to address changes.
  • Putting a good slotting program in place to periodically slot/re-slot your A, B and C SKUs to reduce travel.
  • Evaluating voice control technology as an affordable way to increase efficiency.
  • Measuring and managing labor metrics and alerting operators that they are being tracked. When employees know they are being measured, it often nets a five to seven percent productivity gain.

In a nutshell, don’t assume that robots will be a silver bullet for every supply chain problem or every company. Already, we are seeing promising robotics companies fail. At the same time, robots are certainly a technology to watch.

Are you using robots in your operation? Let us know what problems you’ve solved and what your ROI has been. We’d love to hear your experience.

Originally published at on March 25, 2019.

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