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Robots gain ground in ecommerce warehouses

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PA Consulting Group experts Tim Lawrence and Ruan Jones are quoted in the Financial Times talking about how advances in automation and artificial intelligence are going to impact the job market.

The article notes that, as e-commerce increases and consumers expect a cheaper and faster delivery service, large storage and distribution centres that once relied largely on human labour are being transformed by automation and robotics, sparking fears that jobs could eventually vanish.

Tim says: “Automation has been around for a while, but the intelligence of the automation and its collaborative nature are the two fundamental things that are changing.”

Ruan says that humans will continue to play a role in areas of logistics where there is a diversity of non-standardised goods, or for softer objects like fruit and vegetables that require delicate handling.

“The dexterity of humans is still quite remarkable compared to even the better robots, but robotics are getting helped by optical and positional sensing,” says Ruan.

But while many logistics and e-commerce companies insist they are creating more high-end engineering and programming jobs to meet booming demand, Tim believes that people undertaking manual work in the warehouse could suffer as a result of advances in automation.

Tim says: “There will definitely be less employment in the warehouse logistics sector through automation. Everyone says there will just be different types of jobs — I’m not 100 per cent that will be the case.”

Tim adds: “There clearly will be growth in people who can programme robots and develop artificial intelligence solutions, but [for] people in logistics doing manual tasks, the impact will be quite significant.”


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