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Flattening the hiring spikes

Article by Megan Gee
warehouse worker at christmas

How the robotics revolution helps manage seasonal needs for more workers

While demand increases are never a problem, demand spikes represent substantial difficulty. When a season like Christmas arrives where demand reaches a level that cannot be sustained throughout the rest of the year, warehouses must make changes.

Large scale temporary hiring operations are put into effect. Operations that are time-consuming resource-intensive to manage, run, and disassemble when the season is over. These often highlight the underlying truth that the cost of an employee’s salary is just one part of the overall expense involved in the hiring process. Other such expenses include:

  • Training expenses
  • First aid costs
  • Pension schemes
  • National Insurance payments
  • Safety equipment provision
  • Sick days
  • Holiday allocations
  • Recruitment advertising fees
  • Internal disciplinary processes
  • Human resource expenses

Even for temporary hires, for whom some of these payments might not be the same amount as a full-time long-term employee, these expenses are still substantial.

These are just the costs related to the normal cycle of predicted seasons. As the COVID-19 crisis has revealed, there are plenty of factors that can cause a high demand for warehouses outside just the seasonal timings of certain holidays.

In March 2020, UK supermarkets Co-Op, Tesco, and Lidl found themselves in need of an extra 28,000 jobs across its bricks and mortar and warehouse centres. Supermarket related job searches rose 318% in the first three months of 2020.

In April 2020, Amazon had to push for a further 100,000 workers for its warehouses to keep up with the rapidly accelerating pace of online demand caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

Previously, these kinds of problems were just accepted as “costs of doing business”. Even a fixed automation system could only make things faster up to a point. There was thought to be no way to get around the fact that certain times of year would need more workers than others. That was until the robotics revolution arrived.

Modular robotic deployment

Flexible automation offers a simple solution to a demand spike. Deploy more robots. With the lack of built-in-place infrastructure and the modular way that the RCS software works, it is deeply simple to increase the number of robots deployed to a given warehouse. This increase can be long-term, short-term, or any length of term in between.

Flexible payment options mean that your warehouse can adapt and change the number of robots it uses and needs as it sees fit. Thanks to both the DM code orientation system and advanced SLAM navigation, every robot can know the position, location, and path of every other robot. Efficient navigation becomes effortless.

Adaptable warehouse arrangement

Demand spikes can often be managed by rearranging how your warehouse is arranged. You may find that in a certain season you need more picking stations, or you might want the picking stations nearer the storage section of specific products at particular times. Perhaps some products need prioritising ahead of others. Perhaps certain orders need to be processed in a different order to others.

Flexible automation allows all this to be a simple matter of programming and re-programming. As the robots require so little in terms of infrastructure around them, just DM codes affixed to the floor, moving and adjusting becomes much easier. Everything is free standing; the picking stations, the storage systems, the safety fencing. It can all be rearranged as an when you need. If demand means new procedures are required, these automation solutions are more than flexible enough to adapt.

New staff strategies

With flexible automation, staff can be deployed and redeployed far more efficiently than ever before. The staff that were previously performing a single monotonous role can find themselves providing much more value to the business as a whole, seeing to much more complex tasks, and ensuring more products get out the door much faster.

The following are a selection of the roles available to staff members who previously might have worked exclusively as operatives for the picking stations.

Deploying staff to these areas is not a zero-sum game. The majority of these roles are far from mutually exclusive, allowing staff to demonstrate perhaps their most unique and valuable asset: Their versatility. With a single operative able to help with overseeing goods in, organising returns, and monitoring health and safety compliance, your investment in your workforce can generate far greater returns.

With your staff ready and able to take on these tasks and more, demand spikes can be met with much greater overall efficiency. A warehouse where all these roles are done well, and where flexible automation has made many other tasks much more efficient, is a warehouse that is more than capable of handling even the most aggressive demand spikes.

To discover just what flexible automation means for your business, come and see the robots in action. Visit Europe’s first flexible automation demonstration centre in the city of Lincoln, UK. Witness the robotics revolution first hand, and discover why so many businesses are making major moves in this direction.

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