Even though robotics has been developed a lot it’s not going to replace workers yet.

I was just reading a blog post about robotics in logistics that led me into Youtube watching robotics competition by Amazon and the winners performance:

Then I discovered myself watching more videos about Amazon and its distributing centers. Those places are just magnificent!

Replacing the workforce with robots

These videos about Amazon’s distributing centers proves that workers won’t be disappearing for a while. There is still many jobs that need workers. Example exactly picking on which Amazon was finding solutions through competition. Of course the shelf or box can be brought in front of the picker by automation, but picking the product from the box itself still needs a human.

Products can be in so many sizes and shapes that it’s difficult for robot to handle them all without the risk of damage. Automatized picking could be and is doable if products in the warehouse are from the same product group. Example only books.

Likewise receiving and shelving the products still needs workers.

In order to understand the complexity of this automation you should watch this video produced by Amazon that guides how the vendors should pack their products that are sent to Amazon.

Isn’t this giving a thought that almost every packet needs a specialized problem solver? How do you think this is managed if the packets are received by robots instead of humans?

Of course the problem solving can also be automatized. It would even be quicker and more reliable than human as an problem solver. But it is not going to happen soon. It needs a lot of coding.

Humans as an robots

During this period of transition from human workers to robots some companies seem to treat the workforce like they were robots. Every now and then some revealing documents are published how workers are treated like crap.

Here is one of them. This is half an hour secretly filmed document about the Amazon’s distributing center in the UK.

This post is not about criticizing the Amazon. You must remember that this video is only subjective view from the worker point of view. Of course you can see some undeniable things in the video that should not happen.

This video brought some basic facts into my mind that every employer should remember:

  • Pay attention to your workers. Humans are humans, not robots. Work performance can’t be even during the whole shift and during the long shift it will probably decrease.
  • Warnings about the sick leave, tiredness and not-perfect-performance are not legal at least in Finland.
  • Constant stress (measuring the performance and demanding constantly more) will affect negatively. Work can come into dreams and cause tiredness which leads into errors. These errors can be costly to employer too and in the worst case scenario tiredness can cause safety risks.
  • Coming late to work is something that you should tell to employee so that it won’t happen all the time. But giving penalty if worker is couple minutes late can’t be reasonable specially when work is something that can be compensated by being overtime.

Well-being at work

Occupational well-being is a wide subject that would need multiple posts put I will quickly comment only couple things.

There is also businesses that invest on their workforce and let them exercise during the work hours. Example Pekkaniska Oy in Finland pays bonuses to their employees about exercising and healthy life style.

Also many studies indicate that by doing less hours productivity won’t necessarily decrease. There are many opinions about the appropriate work hours but the fact is that the longer the day is the more certainly productivity will drop in some point. Some work places do 6 hour work day and their productivity is the same than others with 8 hours per day.

Recently Porsche did decrease their hours because productivity has increased and they produce too much cars. (source news in Finnish http://www.hs.fi/talous/a1382163868776)

Remember that rested, spry and eager employee is the best that employer can have. Errors will decrease, workers are flexible and they might do innovations relating to their work. More important than the productivity during the single shift is motivated employees with low turnover.


Humans tend to mirror the behavior that is focused to them. By being nice and flexible the employee will be motivated and conscientious. Mutually by demanding too much and offering bad work environment worker might not keep up for long. When there is a chance for revenge he won’t hesitate to use it.

If you demand a lot from your employees you should at least offer good work environment that permits the job and is cozy:

  • In the video working in the dark is good example about bad work environment.
  • Lifting heavy objects is one thing that should be provided tools to decrease physical load.
  • Loud noise will tire mentally. Usually noise can be decreased quite easily with little adjustments.
  • Picking order and delimiting the picking area are important. The less walking the more productive worker and less physical stress.
  • Work space design so that toilets and break rooms are near or there is multiple of them in big warehouse not just in the other side of the big building.

Written by Jesse Uitto

Sales Director @ Novellus.fi

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