Are you ready for automation?


The grocery industry has the most physically demanding distribution centers in the world for good reason.  Food is the product that we human beings purchase in large quantities week-in week-out without fail.

Behind the scenes, there are tens of thousands of people working in distribution centers to ensure products are always available on the retail shelf.  These warehouse associates are responsible for moving merchandise as efficiently as possible around the clock every day of the year.

Along with our truck drivers, these people are the unsung heroes that enable Canadians to enjoy the fresh food at prices that are less expensive than most other developed nations in this world.  However, all is not well.

Like many other nations, we are an aging population.

As baby boomers increasingly retire from the labor force, a backflush of labour resources is needed to fill in the physically demanding positions in grocery distribution centers across Canada.

For example, we need order selectors willing to work 7x24x365 who can lift upwards of 26,000 pounds (13 tons) of cases daily.  Herein is the issue that is currently driving the grocery distribution industry towards automation in the developed nations.  There is a very serious concern that labour resources are increasingly becoming scarce and more difficult to attract, recruit and retain.

For a number of years, we have already seen the grocery industry deploy fully automated grocery distribution centres across Western Europe.

These facilities are practically lights out - they typically require 30 per cent of the labor force of a conventional distribution centre.

All work is fully automated with exception of unloading and loading activities. Even the handling of repack merchandise is semi-automated with proven technologies capable of handling extreme throughput volumes.

Although the economic dynamics of Europe are different than North America, rest assured that we are more similar than we are different.

North American grocery companies like Sobeys, Kroger, Supervalu, and Target have already deployed fully automated distribution centres and many other grocery firms are implementing other forms of automation.  I

t is one of the hottest topics at the board room table these days.  A more complete list of North American grocery companies that have automated their distribution centers can be accessed here.

Is your company a candidate for distribution automation?

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