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Automation Will Help Drive the Need for Warehouse Workers Through 2024

Feb. 16, 2022
How true human-robot collaboration is the only solution.

Plus One Robotics, a 3D vision software maker for logistics robotics published new research findings from a study that examined warehouses in the US and Europe to understand warehouse footprints, square footage, and number of employees working in the locations. The company commissioned the research, carried out by market intelligence firm Interact Analysis, to also study which roles are carried out by these workers.

Plus One sought to understand how many people are performing common warehouse tasks in environments such as eCommerce fulfillment and distribution centers that could potentially be automated.

The research found that automation is driving sustained jobs growth, as automation creates a virtuous circle: robots aren’t being used to displace manual workers rather, robots are used alongside personnel to augment overall productivity. Warehouse operators and logistics companies face a critical struggle to meet the ever-increasing consumer demands that far outweigh anything that could be met with human manpower alone.

“The International Federation of Robotics has often pointed out that Germany and Japan have some of the highest concentrations of industrial robots per head of manufacturing workers in the developed world. And yet it will come as no surprise to most to learn that Germany and Japan also have amongst the largest numbers of manufacturing jobs in the developed world. The same logic applies here," said Ash Sharma, Senior Research Director, Interact Analysis.

He continues, “Our research shows that warehouse automation is an understandable necessity in a fast-growing market. As automation gets more advanced, it makes fulfillment cheaper and more efficient, resulting in more consumers choosing to shop online leading to greater warehousing demand. On this basis, and assuming the overall warehouse market keeps growing, the warehouse companies that automate the most will also grow the most, and therefore it will be these companies that create the most jobs of all types—including manual warehouse roles."

The evidence suggests that many of the people who gravitated to eCommerce temporarily during COVID-19 will stick with it permanently. During the long periods of lockdown, huge numbers of consumers bought essentials—from light bulbs to shoes to prescriptions—that they wouldn’t previously have purchased online. For many, they will not be going back, and they want their orders sooner. The average package delivery time in the US decreased from 2.1 days before the pandemic to 1.7 days by the end of 2020, according to ParcelLab.*

The research, which involved speaking to almost every single significant warehouse automation provider globally, revealed:

  • The US had 1.6 million warehouse employees in 2019 which are forecast to grow to just under 2 million in 2024, while Europe had 2.5 million warehouse employees in 2019 which is forecast to grow to 3.1 million in 2024.
  • Both Europe and the US are forecast to grow with a similar CAGR of approximately 4% between 2019 and 2024, With demand forecast at this rate, the research found that one million additional warehouse employees will be required, or 25% growth in five years.

“Plus One was founded on the notion that people and robots working together is the best solution in the warehouse. Our goal has been to help humans move to value-added positions by building software that functions intelligently on its own, but also recognizing that no fully autonomous software solution will be perfect on its own. Robots are useful tools, but they function best with intelligent software and human oversight. We see first-hand the challenges our customers are facing to meet labor shortages, and this research confirms that even with the forecast levels of automation, we’ll need more humans in the loop," said Erik Nieves, CEO and co-founder, Plus One Robotics.

The survey also examined which tasks required the most workers, and which were the fastest growing areas for automation. Goods-to-person (G2P) picking is the fastest-growing warehouse activity. G2P picking leverages AMR’s and is scalable, enabling warehouse operators to economically automate in existing environments. Packing and conveyor induction were also in the top three fastest-growing positions. These three sectors represented 17% of all warehouse roles in 2019 (over 693,000 jobs), but this figure will be 21% by 2024 (over 1,000,000 jobs)—a CAGR of 9.3%.

Download the white paper, The Great Exploding Warehouse, for more details.

*Interact Analysis ‘Warehouse Automation 2021’


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