Warehouse Automation —
Warehouse automation helps businesses to increase productivity and accuracy in their warehouses. However, what is it?
In this article, we will discuss what warehouse automation means. We will tell you the types and the benefits you can gain from automating your warehouse. Additionally, we will show you some of the best practices in warehouse automation.
After you read this article, you will be able to use automation to effectively streamline your warehouse. So, without further ado, let us now start!
Warehouse Automation: What is it?
Warehouse automation involves using technology and software to make warehouse operations more efficient and reduce the need for manual labor. It includes automating the movement of inventory within a warehouse and its delivery to customers, with minimal human intervention.
For instance, instead of a person manually carrying heavy packages across the warehouse, an autonomous robot can be loaded with the packages and navigate its way to the shipping area. The robot’s movement is tracked and recorded by the software, ensuring accurate inventory management and reducing errors.
It is important to note that warehouse automation does not always mean physical robots. It can also refer to using software to replace manual tasks. However, the example above demonstrates how robots and humans can work together to handle repetitive tasks, minimizing fatigue and the risk of injuries.
Types of Warehouse Automation
1. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
This is a type of GTP technology that uses automated systems and equipment to store and retrieve materials. It includes vehicles, shuttles, and loaders that transport items within the warehouse. AS/RS systems are commonly used in warehouses with limited space and high volume.
2. Goods-to-person (GTP)
Goods-to-person fulfillment is a popular method for improving efficiency in warehouses. It involves using conveyors, carousels, and vertical lift systems to bring items to workers, reducing the need for them to move around. GTP systems can significantly speed up the picking process in warehouses.
3. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)
AMRs are more flexible than AGVs and use GPS systems to navigate warehouses. They have advanced laser guidance systems that help them detect obstacles and safely move in dynamic environments with high human traffic. AMRs are easy to program and implement quickly.
4. Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
AGVs are vehicles that navigate a predetermined path in the warehouse using magnetic strips, wires, or sensors. They have limited computing power and are best suited for simple warehouse layouts with minimal human traffic. AGVs are not ideal for complex warehouses with space constraints.
In this method, workers scan barcodes while bright lights on displays show them where to store or retrieve items and how many they need to pick.
After picking the items, the workers put them in containers and press a button near the display to confirm they are done. The displays keep lighting up in the workers’ designated areas, guiding them to the next place they need to pick up items.
6. Automated Sortation Systems
Sortation systems use RFID, barcode scanners, and sensors to identify items on a conveyor system and direct them to specific warehouse locations. These systems are used in various order fulfillment processes, including receiving, picking, packing, and shipping.
7. Voice Picking and Tasking
Voice-directed procedures, also known as pick-by-voice, involve using speech recognition software and mobile headsets to direct warehouse workers in picking and putting away products. This method eliminates the need for handheld devices like scanners and allows pickers to focus on their tasks with improved safety and efficiency.
Benefits of Automating Your Warehouse
Here are some of the benefits when you automate your warehouse:
1. Reduction in processing time
Warehouse automation makes processes faster and reduces the time spent on handling tasks.
With warehouse automation systems, measuring packages becomes quicker and more precise, as they can capture dimensions, weight, and images of a package within seconds. This saves a significant amount of time, especially when dealing with a large number of parcels.
2. Enhanced warehouse productivity
Robots are much faster and more precise than humans, but humans bring unique cognitive abilities that robots cannot replicate. When humans and robots work together, it creates a powerful combination for warehouse automation.
Many tasks in a warehouse are repetitive and take up a lot of time. Automation can help reduce unnecessary steps and inefficient processes throughout the warehouse.
With warehouse automation systems, the location of items in an order can be identified almost instantly. This means workers spend less time physically moving goods and redoing picking tasks.
3. Improved employee efficiency
Automation does not mean replacing workers with robots. Its purpose is to eliminate monotonous and repetitive tasks.
Warehouse automation can enhance employee satisfaction, enable faster and improved work completion, and enable employees to concentrate on tasks that add value.
In essence, warehouse automation simplifies supply chain processes and prevents unnecessary resource wastage.
4. Improved customer satisfaction
In a highly competitive industry, it is crucial to provide customers with a satisfying shopping experience to stand out. Companies need to be proactive and deliver goods faster than customers expect.
By using an automated warehouse, the time taken to prepare and ship orders is reduced, and the chances of making mistakes are nearly eliminated. Additionally, if a customer is not happy with a product, the process of managing returns is also automated.
5. Decrease operational costs
It is true that investing in warehouse automation can be costly, complex, and carry some risks. However, have you considered the expenses associated with an inefficient warehouse?
Initially, they may not seem significant, but in the long run, the hidden costs of having insufficient stock, low service levels, and dissatisfied customers can seriously harm your business.
While it is undeniable that warehouse automation projects come with a price tag, they often provide a quick return on investment (ROI).
The reason for this swift ROI is that warehouse automation brings about various cost-saving opportunities.
For instance, it reduces expenses related to staff administration and training, optimizes product handling and storage costs, minimizes inventory errors, and eliminates the risks of mishandling and product loss.
Best Practices in Warehouse Automation
1. Invest in scalable technologies
The technology you choose should be able to grow along with your business. It should be capable of accommodating the addition of more warehouses, employees, equipment, and new partnerships in the supply chain, such as third-party logistics (3PLs) or drop shippers.
2. Automate data collection
No matter what kind of warehouse automation you are thinking about for the long term, it is a good idea to begin with a solution that automates data collection, transfer, and storage.
By using cloud-based systems along with handheld barcode scanners, you can take a low-cost and low-risk approach to automation.
This combination will help you reduce mistakes made by humans, gather important data about your warehouse’s performance and inventory, and store it all in a centralized cloud database for later analysis.
3. Conduct cycle counts
Cycle counts are used to check if the actual inventory matches the recorded inventory data, and they are an important part of warehouse management systems (WMS).
When you have automated systems for collecting data in your warehouse, you can also automate continuous cycle counts using handheld barcode scanners or RFID sensors.
This allows you to easily identify any differences between the actual inventory and the recorded inventory by using dashboards or visual displays.
4. Train and make your employees involved
You should provide adequate training to employees who will work with the automated systems.
Involve them in the implementation process and communicate the benefits and impact of automation on their roles. Employees’ insights and feedback can contribute to the success of the automation project.
Warehouse Automation Software
1. Oracle Warehouse Management
Oracle Warehouse Management is a software solution that provides real-time visibility and control over warehouse operations, helping businesses optimize inventory management, order fulfillment, and labor utilization.
2. SAP Extended Warehouse Management
SAP Extended Warehouse Management is a warehouse automation software offered by SAP that integrates with other SAP business solutions. It offers features such as inventory management, order fulfillment, labor management, and advanced analytics for efficient warehouse operations.
3. Blue Yonder
Blue Yonder is a warehouse automation software that helps businesses optimize their warehouse operations through advanced analytics, machine learning, and robotic process automation.
Snapfulfil is a cloud-based warehouse management system (WMS) that offers features such as inventory control, order processing, and labor management. It helps businesses optimize their warehouse operations and improve overall efficiency.
Swisslog provides warehouse automation solutions that incorporate robotic systems, software, and material handling equipment to optimize warehouse processes and improve productivity.
+ What is warehouse automation?
It refers to the use of technology and machinery to automate various tasks and processes within a warehouse, such as inventory management, order fulfillment, and material handling.
+ Is warehouse automation suitable for all types of warehouses?
While warehouse automation can benefit various types of warehouses, the suitability depends on factors such as order volume, product characteristics, warehouse layout, and budget.
+ What are the challenges associated with warehouse automation?
Some challenges of warehouse automation include high upfront costs, system integration complexities, resistance to change from employees, selecting the right technologies for specific needs, and ensuring ongoing system maintenance and support.
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