Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the e-commerce market shows no signs of slowing down. Take for example food retailers and general merchandise players. With current circumstances in mind, they have seen increasing demand, not only from their traditional customer base but also from new consumers enjoying the advantages of online shopping.
While growth appears positive on the surface, the reality is far from straightforward. For warehousing companies to scale up their activities, they will need to look further than manual processes. Such an approach is simply not feasible in the short term, or sustainable in the long term.
At the very least, manual processes should be enhanced if not replaced. After all, society is ageing and there is a global scarcity of labour. E-commerce businesses operate in a world in which there is limited availability of new workers, and if circumstances are better elsewhere, employees will simply leave.
And who can blame them? Would any of us prefer to work in an environment that causes total exhaustion by the end of the day? There is also the question of work-related injuries resulting in absenteeism.
This can have a direct impact on the life of the person who has suffered the injury and there can be other (in)direct costs involved. While more stress falls on those who remain behind, new starters brought in to fill the gap are at a higher risk of developing injuries than experienced workers.
While the rise of e-commerce will have an impact on warehouse processes and delivery reliability (and potentially customer satisfaction), it will also lead to higher levels of automation and changes to manual labour. This is where the user experience (UX) and ergonomics can be of tremendous value.
An intuitive interface
So, while there are certainly challenges involved when it comes to growth and workforce availability, there are also opportunities. As many employers already know, job satisfaction increases staff motivation, retention and long-term efficiency.
If the interfaces between humans and their environment are logical and intuitive, physical impact can be reduced, leading to higher productivity and lower fatigue levels. In addition, by incorporating a wide range of operator ‘profiles’ into the design stage, e-commerce companies can increase the demographic pool of potential new employees.
At Vanderlande, we’ve long recognised the importance of UX and ergonomic design. This approach can increase the appeal of a working environment, help to attract and retain employees, while facilitating higher levels of productivity. Consider this in certain warehousing segments that must commit to upscaling.
This raises the value of ergonomics and UX, because learning curves become more critical when more new employees are hired. As higher levels of automation create different manual processes, companies must consider solutions that suit their business activities and the needs of their operators.
However, it’s one thing to recognise these challenges, and quite another to create a response. To begin with, our in-house UX designers and ergonomic specialists already have long experience in developing solutions that exceed ISO standards. With each iteration of a solution, we improve the overall experience for the user.
But one of our main strengths lies in our ability to cooperate with external organisations to develop ergonomic solutions, such as our ‘depalletising station’. This was developed alongside one of our customers and a third-party organisation, which used an advanced ergonomic assessment tool.
Using the depalletising station, operators can slide cases from the pallet into a carrier, at an ergonomically optimal working height. This means that they no longer have to lift and carry cases to high or low points on a pallet.
We are also using a state-of-the-art POSE detection tool, which gives us data about the postures people adopt when using our workstations, such as Goods-to-Picker. Our analysis can improve daily work lives, reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries, positively impact resource planning, and improve the way workstations are designed in the future.
What I find most exciting about the POSE detection tool is that we can also deliver it as a service to our customers. In close consultation, we can really deep-dive into individual requirements and create solutions that are the perfect match for their operations today, and also help them to be fit for the future.
If warehousing companies are having to rapidly expand their activities, they can at least be sure of cultivating a loyal, happy and productive workforce through the power of UX and ergonomics.