Put simply, warehouse automation is the introduction of machinery to perform the tasks of storing and retrieving goods that were once carried out by humans.
But to leave the definition there would be to do an injustice to automation. By adopting technology, the warehousing sector has been able to respond to the huge shift in the way a vast range of products move between the manufacturer, the retailer and the consumer.
And driven by consumer demand and the rapid growth in e-commerce, automation also means using sophisticated software-based management systems to collect and store operational data that humans were never able to do with a clipboard and a pencil.
Challenges and Benefits
The challenges in warehousing that are being met by automation are wide-ranging as speed and efficiency become key to meeting the constant demands from the retail sector for a better service, more quickly.
The potential is very real for inaccurate inventory records, poor warehouse organisation, inefficient use of space and incorrect order fulfilment as well as damage to stock and still ensuring safety and security in a busy workspace.
But the benefits are equally impactful. Warehouse automation can create a widely used system known as ‘goods-to-person’ (GTP) in which an operator, based at a workstation, can have order picks delivered directly by machine.
This process reduces error and stock damage, saves time as the operator is not walking from location to location, enhances safety for the same reason and boosts security.
And as all the orders are handled through the warehouse management system, the process generates a wealth of information that will help improve workflows, productivity and customer fulfilment.
As this operational data is recorded and stored, the real-time status of inventory is visible to inform provision and replenishment activity, order accuracy is boosted and opportunities for working smarter can be spotted leading to increased customer satisfaction.
Warehouse automation technologies
The range of equipment that will introduce warehouse automation and the GTP process into your operations is wide. They include:
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) – one of the most advanced types of warehouse automation, means your team members remain at their workstations as robots bring selected products or storage units to them.
- Clad-Rack Warehouse – the warehouse is built using the racking as part of the support structure, meaning automated systems are embedded during the installation process.
- Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) – Flexible automated solution using stacker cranes are used to provide a high load bearing capacity and optimise storage with its 40m height and 1,500KG load bearing ability.
- Pallet Shuttle System – Uses rail-borne shuttles to store and retrieve palletised goods from racking systems before returning to a home station to be ready to pick the next order.
- Miniload AS/RS – a high speed picking system that enables light goods up to a maximum capacity of 500KG to be selected accurately and speedily for delivery to a workstation
- Handling Shuttle Fast Ring – A flexible monorail shuttle that improves workflows by connecting up the entire automated warehouse
- Vertical Lift Module (VLM) – A lift device that is suitable for materials of varying shapes, sizes and weights that allows full use of the height of the warehouse
The greatest challenges that come with warehouse automation are being able to see the big picture of how it will help you run your business and when to start the process.
Investment in the technology can be a large financial undertaking and could also have an impact in terms of human resources so it will require a firm commitment from the business.
Timing will be decided by your own business demands and by external factors such as economic forecasts, consumer demand trends and also, to some extent, by the activities of competitors.
With our knowledge and experience of warehouse automation, Quickline can help you understand all these challenges and help provide the right solutions for you. Contact us to find out more.