During the pandemic, some companies turned to robotics automation to deal with the surge in online orders and limitations due to social distancing regulations in warehouses.
For instance, American Eagle Outfitters Inc. used warehouse robots to cope with the overwhelming volume of online orders and is now using automation to accelerate the distribution process. Instead of hiring more people to cope with the increased demand, using automation allows companies to operate efficiently whilst minimizing the number of employees at their warehouses to maintain safe working conditions.
“During non-COVID times, if demand grew by 50% I would go hire 300 more people,” said Shekar Natarajan, senior vice president of global inventory and supply chain logistics for American Eagle Outfitters. “It’s really tough because you’re also trying to make sure you’re keeping the associates safe… You cannot actually bring in 1,000 to 2,000 untrained people into the distribution facility and maintain safe working conditions.”
Indeed, according to logistics & supply chain thought leader Stephanie Krishnan, Research Director for IDC, there has been an increasing interest in the use of RPA (Robotic Process Automation) to improve the workflow processes at the warehouses and reduce personnel requirements.
Although companies have been looking to adopt technology solutions to improve their productivity, the present circumstances have greatly accelerated this process. COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of technology in the e-commerce logistics industry, especially its ability to allow companies to flexibly adapt to fluctuations in demand and supply.
“The ability to scale up quickly or scale down without laying off workers or reconfiguring workers has become more important,” said Thomas Boykind, a leader of Deloitte’s supply-chain practice.