The grocery industry is relying more on automation to free up workers to cope with the surge in demand during the pandemic.
FREMONT, CA: The industrial agriculture and food sector is responsible for feeding the U.S. and many of its trading partners. Industry leaders have invested in robotics and automation technology to achieve greater productivity and scale to fulfill potential needs. Automated irrigation, fertilizer, harvesting, and breeding systems are all key areas of production. These changes to the process are aimed at lowering production costs while also conserving water, fuel, and fertilizer.
Many of these innovations are not only effective, but they also eliminate the need for human labor. Some major commercial firms have employed harvesting robots that can cover the acreage of several workers, prompted in part by a shortage of workers to pick fruit. Given COVID –19’s effect on borders and worker flows into and around the U.S., many businesses have a strong incentive to continue investing in these innovations, decreasing the need for human labor even more. The introduction of self-driving tractors and sprayers would reduce the need for significant day-to-day staff even further.
Automation adoption is increasing at distribution centers and grocery stores farther down the supply chain. Many warehouses have replaced conventional forklifts with Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVS), which can handle various tasks that previously required several workers, such as unloading and loading trucks and moving large products around warehouse floors. They can also work in extreme environments, including freezers and cold storage, for longer periods.
Similarly, the pandemic has increased the use of technology in grocery stores. Self-checkout cashiers and other forms of kiosks that encourage social distancing have become more common. The grocery industry is relying more on automation to free up workers to cope with the surge in demand during the pandemic. The use of autonomous floor care robots has risen to about 8,000 hours of daily work in recent months, up 13 percent from pre-pandemic levels. This work that ‘otherwise would have been completed by an essential worker’ allows these employees to engage in allegedly more productive activities.