16 November 2022

A Job for Robots? Beyond the 3Ds

In recent years the concept of the 3Ds – “dirty, dangerous, and dull” – has been a guidepost for decision-making processes about when to automate. The 3Ds offer a conservative description of the types of jobs where robots can, or should, replace humans, without concern that robots are stealing good jobs. Surely we can all agree that certain environments, especially those that are hazardous, straining, and monotonous are better suited for automation. 

It’s easy to acknowledge that robots actually improve the lives of operators by taking on these undesirable roles. However, as workplace dynamics and robot-human interactions evolve, the 3Ds concept is starting to feel cliche within the world of robotics and AI. While it was once a helpful yardstick, it’s now too confining to be used in such an important decision-making process.

The 3Ds are great, as a floor. Now, let’s look at an updated way of considering how we re-engineer our way toward the ceiling.

Accurate: Goodbye to Missorts and Mistakes

In manual operations, errors such as missorts may be common, but they also may be costing you more than you realize. A study from Multichannel Merchant found that on average, a single fulfillment error can cost an operation between $35 and $50. If you’re facing multiple errors on a daily basis, that can end up shorting your business many thousands of dollars annually. These estimates don’t account for the diminished trust and lost business from customers who are driven away by a pattern of mistakes.

With the monotonous nature of many fulfillment jobs, errors should be expected. Automating  these repetitive tasks is a surefire way to make costly mistakes a thing of the past. Most of  Dorabot’s sorting solutions yield an accuracy rate significantly greater than 99%.

Near-perfect precision can make a world of difference for a warehouse, DC, or fulfillment center operation. The tangible savings should be part of the ROI equation for newly deployed technology. The initially intangible savings that result in happier customers may reveal themselves in data over time as well, like reductions in the handling of complaints and higher customer satisfaction scores. 

Additive: Counteracting Labor Shortages

While it differs from operation to operation, a sizable team may be required to keep a steady rotation of operators and guard against the issues of fatigue and burnout. However, recruiting and maintaining a team is a challenge in and of itself. In particular, the labor market for certain warehouse and fulfillment center jobs has become increasingly shaky over the past couple of years.

Berkshire Grey found that over half of executives pointed to labor shortages for their struggle to meet the past year’s fulfillment demands. With the constant increase in consumer expectations and the massive spotlight placed on e-Commerce, those demands are only likely to increase, as will the scale of operations. The 28 billion square feet occupied by warehouses globally in 2020 are expected to grow to 37.5 billion square feet by 2025. That means even more operators and managers will be needed to keep things running smoothly.

Naturally, robotic solutions can fill in the gaps and ease labor shortages. Most often, robots perform tasks at a rate that’s equivalent to multiple operators. When you consider that many operations run multiple shifts, it’s easy to see how a single robotic solution can address a multitude of staffing requirements. Even better, deploying new robotic solutions can invigorate operators by upscaling their roles and by reducing stress related to making up for short-staffing.

Abundant: Robotic Productivity

Productivity and time optimization is the name of the game for modern-day e-Commerce operations. True productivity can be measured through cost-effectiveness, and most of all, timely fulfillment. Today’s consumers want their orders, and they want them fast. McKinsey reports that 90% of online shoppers expect free shipping with arrival in just two to three days. This affects more than just direct-to-consumer brands, though, as that need for speed extends to 3PLs and fulfillment centers that have to get orders in and out fast enough to keep up with retailer expectations.

All processes have challenges, overcoming them is the key. SKU complexity, high throughput requirements, and the strain of repetitive tasks are common. Robotic solutions, including those that sort over 1000 parcels or palletize hundreds of cases hourly are certain to boost efficiency. Bolstering the capacity of operations through the addition of automated systems may be just what the doctor ordered. Aside from the safety issues associated with repetitive motion and periodic decisions to forego a group lift when there’s a deadline looming and few operators available.

By investing in robotic solutions, forward-thinking companies not only support the well-being of their employees but also improve upon the overall efficiency of operations. This in turn only further lifts the burdens of traditional fulfillment center roles as operators learn new skills and take on more engaging roles through the adoption of robotic and AI-driven solutions. 

Seeking a new measuring stick for assessing your automation goals?  Move beyond the 3Ds and consider the 3As: the accurate, additive, and abundant nature of robotic solutions.

Ready to automate? Let’s make it happen.