Your guide to warehouse automation
Warehouse automation is becoming increasingly popular, with more and more warehouses choosing to invest in it. Here is everything you need to know about warehouse automation.
What is warehouse automation? In short, it involves streamlining operations to boost efficiency and productivity through the use of automated systems and solutions that replace manual and repetitive tasks. By automating warehouse processes, it becomes possible to increase storage density, allowing for more efficient use of space.
Warehouse automation also eliminates time-consuming and physically straining work tasks for warehouse workers and frees up time for tasks like quality control and technology management.
The mix of humans and automated warehouse solutions improve overall efficiency, picking accuracy, and reliability while creating a better and safer work environment.
Warehouse processes that can be automated
Warehouse automation technology traditionally consists of robotized storage, order-picking solutions, material flow handling, and various control systems. We also see new warehouse automation software providing new features like predictive analytics and real-time inventory control.
Processes that can be automated in a warehouse can include:
- Inbound is one of the most critical processes in a warehouse. With warehouse automation storage it can be faster, have higher accuracy and significantly reduce the required space.
- Material flow handling solutions like conveyor belts to move items and inventory from one warehouse zone to another.
- Order picking is the most time-consuming task in a warehouse. This process can be automated with warehouse automation solutions, increasing speed and accuracy.
- Returns can be automated with automated sorting systems.
- Sorting is more accurate with automated warehouse solutions.
- Packaging is safer with automated packaging and cartonization systems.
- Waste can be handled automatically and accurately with a warehouse automation solution.
View how the online pharmacy Apotea has automated various warehouse processes:
Learn more about the warehouse automation solutions at Apotea.
Benefits of an automated warehouse
Automated warehouses increase efficiency and accuracy, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and growth.
Warehouse automation provides a wide range of additional benefits:
You save space
Warehouse automation solutions can secure four times more storage capacity in a given area. Thus, you can move to a smaller warehouse or grow where you are.
Reduced cost per transaction
With increased productivity, the cost of each transaction is reduced.
Shorter delivery time
Increased efficiency also shortens the delivery time to your customers.
Reduced training time
Most warehouse automation solutions need little training to learn.
Fewer picking errors
Automation minimizes human errors in a warehouse.
Improved inventory control
Real-time inventory management gives greater control and reduces costs from inventory control.
Workers no longer need to walk long distances and do heavy lifting daily, making them healthier and more energized.
Less theft and spoilage
With your inventory safely secured in an automated warehouse solution, you reduce the chances of theft and other spoilage.
Money saved on trucks
Automated warehouse solutions bring the goods to you – saving you money on trucks and other equipment like forklifts.
Some automated warehouse solutions, like AutoStore, are modular, allowing you to scale up and down according to your needs.
Want to learn more about the financial benefits of warehouse automation?
Download our whitepaper on how to achieve ROI on warehouse automation.
Challenges of an automated warehouse
An automated warehouse is not always the best choice. If your product range varies monthly, it might not be worth the investment. This is also true if you are a small business with little to no growth ambitions. Small is defined as two or fewer employees or less than 1000 products.
Types of warehouse automation systems
Warehouse robotics uses technology and software to automate warehouse processes like transporting items and performing various tasks.
Warehouse automation has become an important competitive factor and necessary in most industries to stay competitive and achieve efficient warehouse operations. When deciding to automate and invest in warehouse automation, you have several types to choose between.
Types of warehouse automation and robots:
- Goods-to-person (GTP). A system that retrieves goods to a warehouse worker and gives instructions on how many items to pick.
- Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). AS/RS is designed to store and retrieve products and inventory on demand using goods-to-person-technology. You can often pick and mix technology to create the solution that suits you. An AS/RS system can, for example, include autonomous mobile robots, carousels, mini-loads, stockers, and shuttles. The system usually integrates with warehouse control systems (WCS) like eManager to control operations. AS/RS systems save you space and improve productivity.
- Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs). A mechanized automation system using magnetic strips, wires, floor markers, or sensors to navigate a set warehouse path. Limited to simple but large warehouses.
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). With onboard sensors, AMRs are more intelligent than AGVs and can safely navigate warehouse environments alongside human workers.
- Advanced technology allows drones to locate and count inventory. The drones can reach all warehouse corners and alert if items are misplaced or need restocking.
- Automated Sortation Systems.Sort items with technology like sensors, barcode scanners, and RFID on a conveyor system to the correct warehouse location.
- Automated Dimensioning Systems. Identify the dimensions of a pallet or parcel with infrared technology.
- Pick-to-light systems. By using scan codes, pick-to-light systems guide warehouse workers with LED displays to the correct storage location and explain how many items should be picked.
- Conveyor systems. Get fast and efficient material flow handling for transporting goods from one area to another with automated conveyor systems.
- Box erector. You can automatically form, fold and seal boxes with an automated box erector to save time on construction during the packaging process.
Element Logic is a global distributor of industry-leading AutoStore. We develop technology that optimizes the AS/RS system.
When to automate your warehouse
The best time to automate your warehouse is before you need to. It only takes one wrong or late delivery for you to lose current or potential customers. Warehouse automation is an investment in your future and increases the quality of your logistics.
However, it is also important to remember that automating your warehouse is never too late.
Indications that it is time to automate your warehouse:
- You experience a high turnover rate in your staff or even difficulties hiring warehouse workers altogether. Warehouse automation makes a better work environment and provides predictability.
- You get many customer complaints about wrong items being delivered or delayed orders.
- You have high return rates.
- You need more warehouse space.
Cost of warehouse automation
Automation is a substantial investment for most companies. Therefore, it is very important to get a proper ROI understanding of all the savings that an automated warehouse represents.
The initial investment in warehouse automation depends on size, requirements and processes. Modular systems like AutoStore is an advantage as you can start small and grow the solution and the complexity as the requirements changes.
You normally start saving money from an automated warehouse solution from day one. The full return of investment (ROI) is usually within a few years, depending on your size and growth.
With an automated warehouse you save money on:
- Less required space
- Reduced cost per transaction
- Higher warehouse performance
- Improved quality control
- Reduced training time for new staff
- Improved customer satisfaction
- Fewer picking errors
- Less theft and spoilage
- Reduced cleaning budget
- Less need for equipment like trucks
Contact us to find out the cost and time to ROI for your warehouse.
Is a fully automated warehouse the future?
It is impossible to predict the future. However, it is a safe bet that customers will continue to raise their standards as to what they expect when placing an online order. A human workforce will remain necessary as warehouses become more and more automated to accommodate increasing customer demands.
As the technology matures, you will be able to manage more warehouse processes with software systems utilizing big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize operations.
By 2030, warehouses worldwide will have automated many operations as AI takes over repetitive tasks. Experts predict up to 50 – 60 percent growth in warehouse automation over the next ten years. Today it is estimated that about five percent of warehouses are automated.
Robots will not replace humans in warehouses
Some warehouse workers are worried about how warehouse automation will affect their jobs. Still, research implies that it will only improve the working conditions in a warehouse.
With warehouse automation, warehouse workers can spend their workday overseeing warehouse operations and managing automation technology.
Warehouse automation will:
- Reduce work-related injuries
- Eliminate repetitive tasks for warehouse workers
- Be less physically draining, which results in a better life/work balance
- Teach warehouse workers new skills related to technology
- Increase overall safety
- Minimize mistakes due to human errors
- Increase productivity
Warehouse jobs will likely change in the coming years, but they will still exist – just in a more motivating and interesting form.