According to MHI’s 2023 Annual Industry Report, 74% of respondents are increasing their investments in robotics and automation. So much so that the report says these technologies have become “table stakes for operations to remain competitive.” Yet, according to a survey of readers of Modern Materials Handling, Logistics Management, and Supply Chain Management Review, 48% have no such purchasing plans.
If robotics and automation are a “table stakes” competitive advantage, what’s stopping nearly half of companies from investing in these solutions? Perhaps it’s the persistent misconceptions about the impact of such technologies on workers.
The following debunks five common labor-related automation myths.
Myth # 1: Automation will replace all my labor.
FACT: Automation, such as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), won’t replace workers. Instead, it takes over the repetitive tasks that workers find boring.
Warehouse robotics and automation can’t replace workers, but they can reduce the headcount required to perform redundant and repetitive tasks. That frees up associates to perform higher-value work, like exception handling. Operations also need staffers to implement, operate, and service these technologies, says Rueben Scriven, Research Manager at Interact Analysis. In The New York Times, he noted, “Robots won’t replace workers in the near term but rather make them more efficient and productive. Humans will be crew chiefs, commanding and maintaining teams of robots.”
Myth # 2: My employees fear automation will take their jobs and are reluctant to adopt it.
FACT: Workers have automation concerns, but most believe these technologies make their jobs safer while helping their productivity and accuracy.
After interviewing warehouse associates worldwide, Accenture researchers examined their feelings about automation. Their findings, published in the Harvard Business Review, show sentiment toward robotics and automation to be 40% negative and 60% positive. Concerns include job elimination, inadequate training, and downtime due to equipment malfunctions. However, most workers believe automation makes their jobs less dangerous, more ergonomic, and boosts their efficiency and accuracy. To help workers more readily embrace automation, Accenture recommends training, upskilling, and implementing continuous safety and ergonomic improvement programs.
Myth # 3: Everyone in my operation will embrace automation without additional training or a comprehensive change management program.
FACT: Training and change management is crucial to gaining acceptance of automation from personnel at every level of an organization.
Training and change management are key to overcoming any potential resistance to automation. Researchers at Sweden’s Jönköping University recommend several approaches, including:
- Commitment, confidence, and communication from top management.
- Development and repeated communication of a formal automation implementation plan followed step-by-step.
- A human-centric, intuitive, and easy-to-operate automation design.
- Understanding employees’ reasons for resisting automation and developing training to address those concerns.
Myth # 4: Automation won’t be safe.
FACT: AMRs’ integrated systems enable safe navigation and collision avoidance. Fixed automation incorporates guarding systems that protect personnel.
AMRs travel at moderate speeds of 2 to 3 miles per hour and sport integrated safety devices that continuously monitor surroundings. This allows vehicles to slow or stop to avoid collisions, navigate around obstacles, and travel safely among tasks. To protect workers from fixed automation, sensors secure access points and barriers or shields physically separate associates from moving machinery. Best practice is to perform a risk assessment to determine potential dangers and identify the optimal protective solution.
Myth # 5: Automation is too complicated for my in-house technicians to support.
FACT: With specialized training, in-house technicians can become proficient at servicing automation.
Nearly all automation vendors offer comprehensive, hands-on training. These sessions help in-house maintenance personnel learn to service and troubleshoot automation. Outsourcing is also an option. A recent Modern Materials Handling survey found increased maintenance outsourcing from both automation vendors and independent third-party service providers. Those options allow companies to choose the degree of internal and external support that best suits their operation.
Don’t let labor myths keep your operation from reaping the benefits of robotics and automation. Companies that have worked through these misconceptions are experiencing the flexibility, scalability, and ease of operation that automation technologies—such as AMRs—provide.
By implementing training, education, worker-centric design, and a proactive change management program, employees will more readily embrace these technologies while companies can address a variety of workforce-related challenges.
Want to Learn More?
Dive deeper into these labor-related robotic automation myths here.