Matt Wicks is vice president of product development at Honeywell Intelligrated. He has an
engineering background and has worked in the material handling industry for more than
25 years. His expertise is in controls and software integration, but he also has extensive
experience in advanced robotic solution development. Wicks holds a bachelor’s degree in
electrical engineering from the University of Missouri and currently serves as second vice
chair on the Robotics Industries Association’s board of directors. He recently spoke with
DC VELOCITY Editorial Director David Maloney.
Matt Wicks of
your entire operation.
That said, there are several other reasons we
think workers can rest easy. For the immediate future, we see every sign that today’s
labor scarcity will tighten even further, even
as e-commerce volume continues to grow at
a brisk pace. So even if DCs start deploying
robotic co-workers on a large scale, there are
likely to be more jobs available in this market
than there are qualified people to fill them for
many years to come.
Q: WHAT TYPES OF ROBOTICS ARE PRIME CANDIDATES FOR GROWTH IN DISTRIBUTION AND MANUFACTURING FACILITIES AND WHY?
A: Let’s start with the “why” part of that
question. Apart from the scarcity of labor,
the number-one concern we hear from the
market is worker safety. Because of that, we
see the greatest opportunities for robotics in
jobs where automation can reduce or eliminate the risks of injury, overexertion, and
Q: HOW WILL ROBOTICS AND AUTOMATION HELP
TO ADDRESS AN AGING WORK FORCE AND THE
DIFFICULTY IN FINDING SKILLED WORKERS?
A: Robots and automation are key pieces in a
larger puzzle, one that also includes connectivity and integration with existing solutions.
As older workers retire, taking a lot of their
“tribal” knowledge with them, robots will
enable newer workers to keep logistics operations performing at high levels without the
need for a lot of training or technical skills.
Q: HOW DO YOU VIEW THE CURRENT
STATE OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN INDUSTRY?
A: E-commerce and e-retail fulfillment growth are pushing traditional
warehouses and DCs to their limits
and forcing retailers to rethink their
fulfillment operations. Other factors
such as labor availability make the
challenges even more complex.
Q: HOW DO YOU SEE SENSORS AND
BUILT-IN ANALYTICS INFLUENCING THE
ROLE PLAYED BY CONTROLS AND SOFTWARE IN MATERIAL HANDLING
A: Recent advances in these technologies are finally making it
possible for robots to do jobs that were once considered beyond
their capacity. In mobile robotics, for example, sensors and built-in
analytics now enable robots to navigate their surroundings without
any additional infrastructure. This not only reduces their costs but
also makes them safe enough to operate in environments where
they need to avoid people, fork-truck tines, and other obstacles.
At a higher level, sensors and analytics are helping many different types of robots make decisions faster and function more
efficiently with less supervision. In a connected DC environment,
robots can improve their own performance over time and even
teach other types of robots.
Q: WE HEAR A LOT ABOUT HOW ROBOTS WILL REPLACE WORKERS IN THE
FUTURE. DO YOU BELIEVE THIS WILL BE THE CASE?
A: Frankly, the biggest threat to jobs isn’t robots. It’s not being
able to keep up with the incredible changes we’re seeing as a
result of the e-commerce explosion. Automation is going to be
critical to any operation that wants to remain competitive in this
market. If your DC isn’t deploying robotics now, it’s not just
the jobs of individual workers that are at risk; it’s the survival of
In our continuing series
of discussions with top
executives, Matt Wicks of
shares insights into the
fast-evolving field of robotic solution development.