What Is Warehouse Automation? (With Types And Benefits)
Updated 23 September 2022
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Businesses, departments and warehouses create processes that can boost operational efficiency, reduce labour cost, increase productivity and ensure a smooth flow of warehouse processes to fulfil organisational goals. One such technology is warehouse automation, which is essential for managing, transferring, organising and handling warehouses. Learning about automation technologies can help you create processes that help a company reach its production goals. In this article, we discuss what automation for a warehouse is, learn its types, review its many benefits and explore how automation work.
What Is Warehouse Automation?
Warehouse automation is automating technology to increase warehouse processes' efficiency and inventory movement in and out of warehouses with minimal employee assistance. It helps in raising the efficiency of warehouse processes. Automation might take various forms, including robots and machines that help the worker with inventory-related processes. Companies can use these automation features to ensure accuracy, improve productivity, reduce labour costs and enhance overall floor or department safety.
Additionally, this automation addresses various warehouse-related repetitive tasks that are subject to human errors. For instance, a company might hire employees to walk through a warehouse to pick items from a shelf and send it for delivery. This manual process is slow, repetitive and prone to errors. With warehouse robotics and drones, a company can automate the picking process and streamline the workflow on the floor.
Related: 8 Inventory Management Software Solutions (With Benefits)
Types Of Warehouse Automation
Here are some types of automation in warehouses are:
Good-to-person (GTP) technologies primarily involve machines and robots that bring the material to employees for assembly, packing or shipping. GTP might use vehicles or drones to transport or ship material from one location to another. The warehouse that uses GTP techniques can enter or retrieve orders from a centralised database. The automated tool locates the items in the warehouse and moves them to the area where they get picked. Using GTP in the warehouse helps a company reduce its order fulfilment and operational cost and increase the service level.
Related: 36 Common Interview Questions For A Warehouse Supervisor
Warehouses use a pick-to-light system that scans barcodes and the LED lights guide the operators to locate the material in the warehouse. The LED item shows how many products the employee might pick for order fulfilment. Pick-to-light systems eliminate labelling and storage, reduce employee walking and increase workplace efficiency. It also helps in faster locating and picking desired items. Apart from barcodes, the technique uses database systems to improve workplace efficiency and ensure faster product picking, packaging and shipping.
Automated storage and retrieval systems
Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) is a GTP technique that automatically removes the storage and then places them back. This technique helps increase inventory storage density, ensure efficient use of floor space and reduce labour costs. It also ensures order picking accuracy. The technology comprises cranes, shuttles, vertical life modules and micro loads integrated with warehouse management software.
Related: What Is Order Processing? (With Definition, Types And Steps)
Voice picking and tasking
Warehouses that use voice picking and tasking technique uses speech recognition software and headsets to direct warehouse procedures. This system creates an optimised work path for employees to pick and put away products. As this technique eliminates devices like RF scanners, it helps improve warehouse employees' efficiency. Interestingly, employees might use these headsets to stop the production line in an emergency. They might even adjust machines to prevent accidents from occurring.
Automated sortation systems
Automated sortation helps in removing manual labour by identifying materials on a conveyor belt and diverting them to specific locations in the warehouse. A company might use barcode scanners and sensors to ensure accuracy and timely order fulfilment. These systems can direct items to the right location or the correct bins by using technologies that identify and separate items and direct them to specific locations.
Related: What Is A Purchasing Process? Importance, Steps And Tips
Automated mobile robots
Ecommerce warehouses use automated mobile robots (AMRs) because it helps in addressing high labour and high-volume requirements. These robots can understand and effortlessly move in their environment independently. AMRs use artificial intelligence, sensors and machine learning to compute path planning and interpret and navigate the environment. Using the cameras installed in them, these robots can easily overcome obstacles.
Drones are mechanical robots that help in warehouse and inventory management. Many companies use drones for conducting deliveries of products to customers. Most drones have a barcode scanner that can count inventory items, alert warehouse employees to products with low inventory count and help them locate items in the wrong storage location.
Collaborative mobile robots
Collaborative mobile robots are special robots that work closely with humans. These robots work collaboratively with employees and help them pick accuracy in lines for deliverables and defects. They can improve workplace productivity by analysing products and shipping content for defects on a floor. Collaborative robots might offer benefits, such as easy integration, scalability, lower capital cost and reduced employee commute time between different areas.
Benefits Of Automation In Warehouses
Some benefits of implementing automation in warehouses are:
Ensures energised employees
As machines can manage tasks that require heavy lifting and transport, automation can help improve employees' energy levels. These employees can focus on light load-bearing tasks, such as placing shipping items or checking products for transportation. Tools such as cranes, conveyor belts and organisation systems can move packages from one location to another, reducing employees' walking and carrying distance.
Related: Jobs In Supply Chain Management (With Salaries And Skills)
Reduces operational cost
The higher the number of employees a company hires, the higher would be their operational cost. By adding automated systems, a company can decrease their long-term operational costs. While automation might have a high instalment cost, management can plan for these costs.
Related: What Is Cost Of Production? (With Factors That Affect It)
Enhances workplace accuracy
While qualified and well-trained employees produce exceptional work, machines can produce consistent and accurate work. Moving products from one location to another ensures timely delivery to end customers. For example, a conveyor belt responsible for packaging products might deliver products on time better than employees.
Ensures fewer injuries
As automation reduces the involvement of employees in the assembly line, it results in fewer injuries. It reduces the amount of transport and heavy-lifting-related incidents. When employees have the tools required to lift and transport heavy objects, it reduces their workload. A company with fewer injuries ensures higher workplace productivity.
Provides space optimisation
Different kinds of automation might encourage convenient space handling within a factory. Using more machines and fewer employees, a company can make more space on a floor for storage and employee navigation. It might help in architectural and electrical management and convenience.
Related: Logistics Contracting: Definition, Benefits And Elements
Automation systems optimise routes and maximise productivity during the retrieval process. As automated systems identify every item's location, it increases the speed of working and might cause faster delivery of projects. When warehouses use conveyor belts and robots, it can result in order fulfilment. Because of this reason, these companies can offer overnight or one-day delivery to their customers.
How Does Automation In The Warehouse Work?
Automation in warehousing primarily aims to complete repetitive and tedious tasks with less human labour. Automation improves employee satisfaction and production efficiency by reducing employee labour. While automation makes life easier as it lessens the overhead costs, it does not necessarily eliminate the requirement of employees. Leveraging automation technology can help in completing the tasks efficiently. Companies and warehouses might reallocate employees from labour positions to maintenance jobs in which they check product safety, oversee the production floor and test quality margins.
Modern automation solutions employ robots and cranes to perform a range of complex tasks and can deploy relative to the requirements of the warehouse. Automation technologies like machine learning and collaborative mobile robots optimise tasks in real-time based on work priorities and warehouse conditions.
When To Automate A Warehouse?
Deciding when to automate the warehouse depends on various factors. Some questions that can help you decide whether to automate your warehouse are:
Are customers' orders delayed because of a limited workforce?
Is your order fulfilment capacity declining?
Are you witnessing accurate inventory counts?
Do you regularly increase or decrease your workforce to meet fluctuating market demands?
Are you dependent upon manual inventory management software or outdated warehouse management software?
Do your employees use spreadsheets to track inventory and manage warehouse operations?
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