To remain competitive in today’s fast-paced world. Companies globally are jumping on the automation bandwagon to ensure that they can meet consumer demands. While also improving their performance in the market as compared to their competitors.
At the heart of it all, is the change in the underlying system that runs logistics for an organization. It is this particular system that automation aims to target and bring about improvements to.
Before we get into the positives and negatives that come with the world of automation. Let’s first understand the idea as a whole and what it entails.
What Is Warehouse Automation System?
Warehouse automation is the process of automating the movement of inventory into, within, and out of warehouses to customers without little or no human involvement. The end goal is to not only improve productivity. Also, cut any labor-intensive roles that might need the repetition of physical work or manual data entry/analysis.
Warehouse automation system works through the integration of both software and technology. Such as robotics and sensors to automate tasks.
Through this, organizations ensure that critical operations within the facilities can meet customer demands.
Automation will begin with the initiation of a warehouse management system. It will automate all manual processes and data capture. While also improving inventory control and supporting the analysis of data. These systems will then work together to manage and automate tasks across many different business functions.
Warehouse Automation Categories
Since warehouse automation as a concept is quite wide. We can break it down into 4 different categories:
1) Basic warehouse automation
Simple technology built to assist in tasks that would generally require large amounts of manual labor. For example, a conveyor that’s tasked with moving inventory from one point to the other.
2) Warehouse system automation
The usage of software, machine learning, robotics, and data analytics to automate tasks and procedures. For example, the warehouse management system might review the list of daily orders and have the users pick those items out in one go. So that they don’t have to run back and forth to the warehouse.
3) Mechanized warehouse automation
Uses robotic equipment and systems to assist individuals with warehouse tasks and procedures. An example of this might be the autonomous shelf loader robots. They lift racks of products and then deliver them to labor to retrieve/sort.
4) Advanced warehouse automation
A combination of mechanized warehouse robotics and automation systems. It aims to replace labor-intensive human workflows. The robotic forklift is an example of this. Since it uses AI, cameras, and sensors to not only navigate through the warehouse. Also communicate with other forklifts to figure out their locations/positioning/task status.
Within these categories, there exist many types of warehouse automation technologies that are available for use. Let’s look into those next.
Types of Warehouse Automation Technology
1) Goods-to-Person (GTP)
One of the more popular methods. For increasing efficiency and reducing congestion on the floor. This category includes conveyors, carousels, and vertical lift systems. These systems have the potential of doubling (or even tripling) the speed of warehouse picking.
2) Automated storage and retrieval systems
A form of “fulfillment technology”. It includes automated systems and equipment. Such as material-carrying vehicles or mini-loaders. They are used to store and retrieve materials of products.
3) Automatic guided vehicles
Probably the type of mechanized automation with the least amount of computing power utilized. Such vehicles will use magnetic strips or sensors. To navigate a fixed path throughout the warehouse. These are usually used in large, simple warehouse environments. They have a set navigation layout that the vehicles can function on.
4) Autonomous mobile robots
A more flexible option, these systems use GPS to create effective routes through warehouses. Through the usage of an advanced laser guidance system. These vehicles can detect obstacles. Also, navigate dynamic/complex environments with human traffic much easier.
5) Pick-to-light and put-to-light systems
These systems use mobile barcode scanning devices. They sync to digital light displays. They direct warehouse pickers to where they need to place/pick up certain items. This obviously reduces the amount of time that it takes to walk around and search for the items. While also reducing human error in selection.
6) Voice picking and tasking
Voice-directed warehouse procedures use speech recognition software to create optimized pick paths. They direct warehouse workers where to pick or put away a product. This removes the need for handheld devices. Such as scanners to help pickers concentrate on their tasks with better safety and efficiency.
7) Automated sortation systems
Used for order fulfillment in areas of receiving, picking, packing, and shipping.
Advantages Of Warehouse Automation
Now that we’ve gained an understanding of the world of warehouse automation systems. Let’s dive into the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating this into your business practices.
- Better utilization of resources. An overall reduction in the handling and storage costs
- Minimized manual labor. This can now be allocated to other tasks to increase overall productivity.
- Enhanced accuracy of data coupled with better development of analysis.
- Greater control over inventory and optimal use of warehouse space coupled with reduced loss of inventory.
- Improvements in order fulfillment accuracy. With an overall enhancement in the handling of goods/items.
Challenges Of Warehouse Automation
Just like everything else in life. This too comes with its set of challenges. One will have to work through to make the most out of this technology.
For starters, there is a requirement for significant capital. To get this set up and running. This also then requires expertise to establish and maintain the system. These resources obviously come at a price. Because many companies don’t have these resources on hand. They’re forced to find them externally.
Moreover, with any equipment issues or downtime. There exists the need to maintain maintenance systems. Also, have repair experts on board to tackle any such issues.
Warehouse automation also reduces process flexibility. Since this is a system that is much more difficult to modify. This leads to hindrances in the growth of a company.
In the world of business, there also exist certain lulls during which production slows down. If you have such an expensive technology in place. You run the risk of incurring losses. This is due to the under usage and utilization of your warehouse resources.
Lastly, the implementation of such a system requires thorough research and integration with software. Such as the warehouse management system (WMS) to ensure optimal results. This obviously means that this is a relatively slow process of unlearning and relearning. Companies will have to incur the costs and drawbacks.
Future Of Warehouse Automation Systems
There is no doubt that the future is digital and focused on autonomy. So there should be no such confusion. With regards to whether or not to switch to the warehouse, automation is necessary. Because if you’re hoping to compete in the market. This is a need rather than a ‘want’.
Warehouse automation has gained pace over the past decade. With huge multinationals opting to utilize the service. Also, make the most of it to beat their competitors. Bring about improved returns for their company.
This obviously is a learning process that many companies will go through. This will come with its own sets of challenges but will also entail growth like never seen before.
If something is worth having, there are certain risks that one has to undertake. So if you’re hoping to gain an edge against your competitors. Be a part of the larger technological change that’s sweeping over the world. Then it’s time you take the risk and jump onboard the warehouse automation train!
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