Technology has played a role in making warehouse processes more efficient by augmenting the tasks that humans conduct. Warehouse automation takes on many forms, and it assists in various tasks. In this article, we will provide a guide into warehouse automation.
Warehouse automation refers to the process where there is automation in the movement of inventory that comes into, within and out of the warehouse until they reach customers, requiring minimal human assistance. The use of warehouse automation can reduce labour-intensive tasks that involve repetitive physical work and the entry and analysis of manual data.
There has been an increase in e-commerce activity over the past year due to COVID-19 lockdowns, affecting customer shopping habits. Businesses have to had to come up with strategies to deal with the increased demand. One of these strategies that warehouses and distribution centres have started to embrace is automation. Warehouse automation has been helpful as more customers have started moving to online stores; allowing organizations to be more productive and efficient.
Warehouse Automation Benefits
1. Optimized Labour
Optimizing labour is critical when trying to reduce operational costs. When faced with some restrictions regarding work, such as labour shortages, the business can rely on warehouse automation to augment employees.
2. Better Inventory Management
Having accurate records of your stock levels is essential as it helps you understand the stock that you have available and how much stock is required to fulfil upcoming orders. Warehouse automation can help you better understand, manage, and report real-time inventory data, allowing you to have high accuracy and avoid over-stocking. Through cycle counts and information verification, you can ensure that your warehouse employees do not waste time searching for misplaced or missing items.
3. Order Accuracy
Automation within the warehouse assists in increasing order accuracy, which reduces the costs involved in processing returns. Automation also assists in faster order fulfilment due to having wider operating windows to process orders.
4. Customer Satisfaction
The use of automation is one sure way to guarantee customer satisfaction as their orders will be fulfilled on time, and you can be transparent with them. You will be able to inform customers about where their order is located when they make a purchase, which increases traceability and gives customers the control they require.
Types of Warehouse Automation Technology
Goods-to-person (GTP) fulfilment technology refers to one of the most used methods for improving efficiency within the warehouse while also decreasing congestion. GTP fulfilment technology includes conveyors, vertical lift systems and carousels. GTP systems assist in doubling and even tripling the speed of warehouse picking.
2. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems
Another form of GTP fulfilment technology is Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems used in high-volume warehouse applications with limited space. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems include automated systems and equipment such as tote shuttles, mini-loaders and material-carrying vehicles used to store and retrieve products or materials.
3. Automatic Guided Vehicles
Automatic guided vehicles are automated through mechanised onboard computing power, and they use magnetic sensors, wires, and strips that assist them in navigating through the warehouse. Automatic guide vehicles can follow an advanced path through the distribution centre and perform tasks such as stacking and emptying boxes and beds without any assistance from humans.
4. Autonomous Mobile Robots
Autonomous mobile robots offer more flexibility than autonomous guided vehicles as they use GPS systems that can create the specific routes that the mobile robots should take in the warehouse. They also contain advanced laser guidance systems that enable them to detect any obstacles in the warehouse and navigate safely through environments with human traffic. You can easily and quickly program autonomous mobile robots with routes that they should follow in the warehouse.
5. Voice Picking and Tasking
Pick-by-voice uses voice-directed warehouse procedures with the use of mobile headsets and speech recognition software. Through the voice-directed warehouse procedures, the system can create picking paths that the warehouse workers can follow to pick or put away stock. By pick-by-voice, warehouses can eliminate the use of handheld devices such as RF scanners allowing workers to focus on their tasks with added efficiency and safety.
6. Automated Sortation Systems
Businesses use automated sortation systems for order fulfilment to receive, pick, pack and ship out products. Sortation refers to the process where items are identified on a conveyor system. Then they are diverted to the desired warehouse location using RIFD, sensors and barcode scanners.
7. Barcode Labels and Scanning Automation
Businesses can use barcode labels and scanning automation to assist in processes that require a lot of paperwork. The usage of warehouse signage, barcode labels, rack labels and automated warehouse equipment can assist in the warehouse management process, reducing the time that workers spend during this process. These barcode labels and scanning automation assist in monitoring the flow of stock, control inventory, and determine where different items should be kept, which can speed up the selection and packing of orders.
We take a look at The Impact COVID-19 Had on Warehousing.