Robots Replace Employees In Warehouses

Hitachi robot filling up a container with bottles in a warehouse. (AFP)

During the Wuhan virus pandemic, the warehouses have become one of the hottest fields for robotics.

Shares in Japan’s office, medical and industrial goods suppliers including Askul, MonotaRo and As One have soared as heavy investments in robots helped these companies to handle a jump in online orders during the pandemic.

Wuhan virus has boosted an existing trend in which Japanese ecommerce groups have turned to automation to counter a chronic labour shortage in a country that already makes half the world’s industrial robots.

But robots installed in warehouses and distribution centres have also allowed these companies to reap the benefit of bumper online sales during lockdowns, while maintaining social distancing by minimising interactions between human workers.

Warehouses under the rapid automatisation

Warehouses have now become one of the hottest fields for robotics. Research group Statista estimates that the global warehouse automation market will increase from $15bn last year to $30bn by 2026.

Yano Research Institute, a market research group, projects Japan’s logistics robotics market will expand by a third in the 2020-2021 fiscal year to $167m, partly driven by an increased focus on operational continuity during the pandemic. That figure is expected to increase nearly nine-fold to about $1.7bn within a decade.

Retailers who utilised robotised warehousing saw their shares value skyrocketing. Shares in Askul and MonotaRo, an online tools and supplies retailer, have risen by 92 per cent and 131 per cent respectively since mid-March.

But the increase of robotisation of warehouses will impede the economic recovery creating a much higher unemployment rate than expected.

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