There is nothing more frustrating for a growing business than an inefficient warehouse. Considering your warehouse is a core connection between you and your customers, any problems will automatically harm customer satisfaction. And that is a big no-no!
If your warehouse feels challenging to handle, if you have problems sorting or picking your products and delivering them to where they need to go, perhaps it is time you invested in logistics automation.
With automation, you’ll be able to keep a clean track of your products, increase efficiency, decrease human errors and increase your margin of profit. Let’s see what this entails.
What Is Warehouse Automation?
Warehouse automation is the process (or, rather, processes) that involve moving products into, within, and out of a warehouse. It has become a significant part of big data and AI application areas.
This means deliveries to your warehouse, sorting, storing, picking, packaging, and shipments are all handled by an automated system that requires very little human interference.
So, automation of logistics on this scale usually entails a complex system involving digital and physical automation. You will need systems that can automate data collection and analysis on a digital level, such as various RFID modules.
These usually include barcode scanning, coupled with some form of automatic data analysis and filling of forms, collectively known as ADIC (Automatic Identification and Data Capture). Since Industry 4.0 is all about data and analytics, this digital automation step is rather important.
Physical automation involves any machine used to transfer goods from point A to B. These can include conveyor belts, robotic arms, automated forklifts, and any other machine that you might use to move products around.
All these things are collectively called the Warehouse Managing System (WMS). WMS helps with logistics automation by space optimization through creating detailed floor plans for your warehouse, daily schedule optimization, inventory management, monitoring, reporting, and compiling data for future enhancements and order fulfillment.
What Are the Benefits of Logistics Automation?
Consider this: in 2021, retail e-commerce revenue for the US was just shy of $770 billion. However, in 2026, it is predicted that this number will jump to $1.3 trillion.
This means that more and more people are using e-commerce as their primary source of income. What this means for you, as a business, is that you’ll soon need to be able to keep up with that demand.
This is where warehouse automation comes in. By using automation, you’ll be able to easily optimize your warehouse and your workflow to keep up with rising demands.
Not only that, but optimizing your business reduces the overall cost of your enterprise through limiting inventory loss, eliminating shipping errors, preventing stocking shortages or excess, etc.
Another important benefit automating your logistics brings is enhanced customer satisfaction. Think about it - if your customers get their products on time and in order, they’ll surely shop with you again. And if they shop with you again, they might even tell their friends about you! That’s free marketing!
Finally, while a priority, customer satisfaction is closely followed by employee satisfaction. Warehouse work can be dangerous, laborious, confusing, and overall exhausting, so by providing your workers with the tools to do their jobs efficiently and ensuring their safety, you will create a loyal, efficient and eager workforce.
However, there is one significant downside to this kind of automation: cost. It will cost you a pretty penny, as well as time.
As a result, you will need to put together a thorough plan and make sure your return on investment will, ultimately, warrant the money you’re spending to upgrade your facility and bring on (or train) professional help that will operate your system. Only then may you get your peers’ approval and eliminate any pushback toward this kind of upgrade.
What Types of Automations Are There?
Warehouse automation is a massive business. Globally, it was worth $15.59 billion, and it is estimated to double by 2026. This means that many automation service providers are already catering to a wider variety of needs.
With this being said, you cannot acquire all the machines and automation systems out there. You need to identify which automation type fits your warehouse the best and go with that. These will, naturally, be decided upon based on the size of your warehouse, cost, availability of skilled help, etc.
Starting with the basics, there is the basic logistics automation type. This type is the most rudimentary, and it includes simple ADIC systems and some basic machines, like conveyor belts, that help reduce the necessary manual labor required.
Warehouse system automation is a complex automation type involving more advanced technologies.
This type involves things like machine learning technology that can recognize patterns and make decisions based on those patterns, which is highly helpful with fulfilling orders. However, it also comes with limited use of robotics for packaging and handling products.
Mechanized warehouse automation relies greatly on machines and robots to do the heavy lifting, along with an extensive network, usually an IIoT automation platform, that governs these machines.
For example, think of a fleet of smaller robots sorting and moving products around the warehouse with minimal human input.
Lastly, there is the advanced logistics automation type. This is the most comprehensive, complex, and most expensive of the types.
It involves AI learning and fully automated machines doing most of the work. Think fully automated warehouses with autonomous forklifts carrying goods and robotic arms storing, picking, and packaging items.
What Are Some of the Types of Automation Technology?
As we’ve said, WMS is a complex system consisting of many individual pieces of technology working in harmony to make your life easier. But what are some of those pieces?
One of the most common technologies aiding with logistics automation is Goods-to-Person technology. GTP usually involves a system of lifts, conveyor belts, and carousels that significantly increase picking speed.
Building upon the GTP, the Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) feature a more varied host of robots and machines that assist with storing and picking goods.
These usually involve automatic guided vehicles (AVGs) that move along set tracks and markers to their destination.
A more advanced version of AVGs, automated mobile robots (AMRs), also belong to this system, and they utilize high-tech laser guiding systems that function well in more crowded warehouses.
Pick- and Put-to-Light systems are also relatively utilized. These logistic automation systems use light signals to assist workers in storing and picking items.
A more advanced version of this system is voice picking and tasking, which helps workers navigate the floor through vocally issued commands and lets them issue voice commands to robots.
How to Automate Your Warehouse?
Creating a plan for logistics automation and implementing it in the workplace is not easy. As we already said, you might face a lot of pushback due to the cost and scope of the upgrade. However, consider these few things, and you just might be able to realize your plan.
- Form an implementation committee - before you do anything, you will need a group of like-minded individuals to help you push this sort of change.
- Consider forming a committee of stakeholders and experts in the field who will monitor the upgrade and offer their advice on the following steps to take.
- Collect data - doing anything without sufficient data is equal to stumbling in the dark. Assess your data collection capabilities and make sure it is thoroughly analyzed before making your move.
- Analyze your inventory control - analyzing your inventory and how the automation process affects it is key to successful implementation.
- Next, consider your SOPs and KPIs, and determine if these are satisfactory enough to warrant automation.
- Install WMS and select your automation type - after you’ve finalized your decision to go ahead with the upgrade, consider installing a WMS platform. This will be your system’s bedrock and determine what type of automation you can implement successfully.
And there you have it, folks, a brief article about your warehouse automation. Warehouse automation is a very comprehensive upgrade to your facilities, but one that is sorely needed in today’s climate.
Luckily, many would provide you with the tools and services, and even smaller businesses can get a piece of that pie.