Emerging Warehouse Automation and Its Benefits

The rapid growth of e-commerce business has redefined the way the warehouse industry functions today. This astounding growth has forced businesses to opt for efficient ways to manage their warehouse. Warehouse automation is no longer considered as a luxury but has become a necessity.

Written by TAFF Inc 26 Aug 2022

Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of the latest warehouse automation technologies, systems, and strategies, all promising to make your operation more competitive, less wasteful, and, ultimately, more profitable.

When autonomous vehicles hit the market for the first time, it was considered that warehouse automation is only for the biggest corporations and hence companies like Amazon and Coca-Cola benefited a lot. Now the scope of warehouse automation has widened and it is possible even for small and medium sized companies to automate their warehouse operations. According to a G2 survey, 77% of the businesses are eager to automate their warehouse management and are shifting to an efficient data-driven performance.

Warehouse automation categories

Basic Warehouse Automation: 

This is the core physical part of the automation where manual work is automated using machines. We’re not talking about completely replacing human labour, but machines do most part of the task and human touch is required. A classic example is a conveyor belt or carousel that moves inventory from one point to another instead of humans moving inventory.

Warehouse System Automation:

This type of automation focuses on the software part of the warehouse management system. Using the evolving technologies like robotics, Artificial Intelligence and data analytics management tasks are automated and efficiently carried out by the software. It is quite common for a human person to forget things and make mistakes that could result in lesser productivity. An automated warehouse management system will review all the orders to be carried on a particular day and will let warehouse employees pick all the inventory in the proper order that will ensure he spends the least amount of time going around the warehouse. The user is allowed to tick each item after picking up, so that he doesn’t miss out on any order. This increases the overall efficiency of the warehouse functionality.

Mechanized Warehouse Automation:

Robotics and autonomous vehicles form the core of the mechanized warehouse automation category. Here the robotic equipment will aid the employees to complete heavy physical tasks in a seamless manner. An autonomous shelf loader is a perfect example for mechanized warehouse automation.

Types of Warehouse Automation Technology

Goods-to-Person (GTP)

As the name indicates, Goods-to-Person fulfillment systems largely help in automating movements of goods inside the warehouse. A properly planned GTP system will increase the efficiency and reduce the congestion of the warehouse. Successful implementation of GTP results in doubling or tripling the speed of warehouse picking. The core components are conveyors, carousels and vertical lift systems. 

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)

This is again a form of Goods-to-Person fulfilment system that contains automated systems along with material carrying vehicles, tote shuttles and mini-loaders. AR/RS basically aids in all tasks related to storage and retrieval of goods in the warehouse. This is highly helpful for space constrained businesses that handle high-volume warehouse inventory.

Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs)       

Unlike AS/RS, AGVs are a perfected fit for large warehouses which have very less human traffic. Automated Guided Vehicles helps in automated movement of inventory inside the warehouse using magnetic strips, wires or sensors to navigate a pre-laid fixed pathway. Space constrained warehouses are not suitable for AGVs.

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)       

This is a more sophisticated version AGVs which can navigate even inside a warehouse that has more human traffic and obstacles. They use GPS systems to create dynamic route and with the help of laser guidance systems it will detect obstacles in its path and will take diversions wherever required. AMRs are easier to program and the implementation takes less time compared to AGVs.

Pick-to-Light and Put-to-Light Systems       

This is a useful technology that makes use of mobile barcode scanning devices that are directly synched with digital light displays. This technology efficiently guides the warehouse pickers on where to place or pick up selected items inside the warehouse. They help in reducing the time required to traverse the warehouse both for the employee as well as AMRs.

Voice Picking and Tasking

These advanced systems have completely eliminated the need for employees to carry a hand-held RF scanning reader. The employees wear a simple headset which has a speech recognition software that guides the warehouse workers to arrive at this specific destination by creating a dynamic route and guides him through voice messages. This helps the employee to focus more on his workload and also complete the route in a short period of time. 

Automated Sortation Systems        

Automated sortation is the process of analysing and identifying products on the conveyor belt and routing them to their respective destination inside the warehouse using RFID or Barcode scanners. 

The Benefits of Warehouse Automation

1. Speed and efficiency of operations 

Humans are prone to make mistakes and can never match the speed and accuracy of automated machines. The combination of speed coupled with high accuracy is a perfect recipe for warehouse automation. The time spent on shifting goods inside the warehouse is reduced by 2X when warehouse automation is properly implemented. This will lead to reduced turnaround time which will increase the overall efficiency. Jan Bednar, the CEO of ShipMonk, says that after implementing warehouse automation their error rate has dropped significantly. With 99.99% accuracy their business efficiency has gone up multi-fold.

2. Increased flexibility and productivity (even 24/7) 

When the warehouse is automated, it gives much better control and flexibility to the management. Since each and every process is digitally recorded, it is easier for the business to track and make changes wherever needed. Since every aspect of the warehouse process is streamlined, it increases the overall productivity. Right from picking and receiving items and pushing them via assembly lines everything is automated. Patrizia Pepe is a popular fashion retailer in Italy. After implementing warehouse automation, their goods handled per hour jumped from 200 to 400. This also led to increased goods delivered from 140 per hour to 330 per hour which is a 3X jump in productivity.

3. Lower overheads

The basic requirement for any business that wants to expand and grow quickly is to strike a right balance between cost and ambitions. Warehouse in general requires storing, retrieving and movement of goods that are heavily labour intensive in nature. A large warehouse requires even a large workforce to manage goods and this is where warehouse automation comes into the picture. When properly implemented, it drastically reduces the need for manual labour. This results in cost reduction across multiple verticals like operating costs, hiring costs and also costs due to human error and accidents. Amazon and Ikea are perfect examples of how they reduced their costs and at the same time increased the operating efficiency of their warehouse.

4. Standardization and compliance

One of the biggest advantages of automating warehouse management is everything is digitally recorded and stored permanently in the cloud. When it comes to government regulation and compliance, the business will be able to provide all necessary records as and when asked for. 

5. Increased safety of operations

Warehouse operations are generally cluttered with human traffic that keeps moving heavy products from one place to another. Traditional warehouse operations are prone to accidents that could cause damage to both employees and products. When the warehouse is automated, human labour involved in movement of heavy goods is reduced thus ensuring safety. Machines have zero tolerance to errors and are less likely to result in any kind of accidents thus ensuring goods safety. Companies working in the Pharma and chemicals space are likely to benefit better with warehouse automation since it involves moving of chemical goods that are hazardous for humans. 

6. Integrity and hygiene of the goods

When a warehouse has AGVs, AMRs, GTP, etc the goods are likely to stay safe and hygienic. Since there is no human contact, the integrity of the goods are likely to remain the same. Also, the machines operate with a very high accuracy ratio which will ensure there are no unforeseen incidents.

7. Visibility of goods and data flows

For faster fulfilment of orders, it is essential for the business to know what is the real-time status of all their inventories both in warehouse and also in transit. This is easily achieved with warehouse automation since all the things are recorded in digital format and are made available in realtime. 

8. Predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance is one of the biggest advantages of warehouse automation that results in improved efficiency. When IoT sensors are installed throughout the warehouse it tracks the equipment and machinery for various parameters that determine the health of the machine. For example, an IoT sensor will track the temperature of a pallet stacker in realtime and whenever it goes above the threshold limit, the IoT sensor will automatically trigger an alert to the central IoT system. Once the alert is triggered, the RPA will automatically send a message to the respective personnel who is responsible for fixing the pallet stacker. The machine will then be taken for maintenance even before the problem kicks in. This will result in uninterrupted and smooth warehouse functioning.

The Bottom Line: 

In today’s complex market, enterprises need every advantage available. Automating has become essential not only for maintaining a competitive edge, but also, for keeping up in general. Warehouse automation optimizes repetitive tasks by incorporating computerized or robot-based processes. This can take many forms, but the goal is always to improve efficiency and accuracy.

It is mandatory for businesses to automate their warehouse operations or succumb to peers who have implemented warehouse automation and are reaping the benefits already. Warehouse automation requires a significant upfront capital and hence you need someone like TAFF to assist you in properly planning and implementing warehouse automation at the right price. 

It’s time to rise to the challenge and make the most of the warehouse automation market. Contact us today to learn more about our automation services.

Written by TAFF Inc TAFF Inc is a global leader and the fastest growing next-generation IT services provider. We create customized digital solutions that help brands in transforming their vision into innovative digital experiences. With complete customer satisfaction in mind, we are extremely dedicated to developing apps that strictly meet the business requirements and catering a wide spectrum of projects.