First Faculty Advisor
Second Faculty Advisor
automation; efficiency; distribution center
Distribution center automation has progressed rapidly in recent times, with substantial improvements in automated systems which improve worker efficiency. These improvements have enabled distribution centers to increase their total throughput, while lowering their labor cost-per-case. However, when a distribution center transitions from manual fulfillment to an automated warehouse execution system, there will be growing pains as the facility adapts. In this exploratory case study of Operations Company X, we observe one such facility that recently transitioned to use an automated warehouse management system. To best explore the happenings of this facility, an archival analysis of pre and post automation data was conducted for the years of 2017 and 2020 to observe changes in key performance indicators between those years. Next, a survey of over 90% of employees was conducted, as well as a series of interviews across different levels of managers at the facility. Using this three-pronged approach of observing what occurred at the facility, we can see a more complete picture of what happened. At this facility, employee fatigue was not increased due to the implementation of automation, likely due to the temporal differences between when automated work was accomplished and when employees needed to interact. Automation's perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use among employees were good predictors of automations propensity to improve employee performance. These findings highlighted the need for strong communication from managers to attain employee buy-in, and sufficient training to teach them how to use it for maximum effectiveness. Additionally, the implementation of automation led to a movement of work for employees from lower-skilled to higher-skilled positions, as automation created new positions at the facility. These new, higher-paying positions, such as seven ASRS attendant and the improved office clerk role, were largely filled by internal hiring of forklift drivers or pickers. Finally, automation caused a reduction in the tedious / repetitive nature of tasks within the facility, as those tasks were the easiest to automate and allow employees to focus their efforts on higher value-added roles.