It seems everyone is talking about warehouse automation these days, from concerns about the potential for robots and automation to take over once human-led processes to businesses that can’t wait to take advantage of the productivity gains promised by the latest automated technologies, there are many possible impacts of the rise of warehouse automation.
Obviously, the benefits companies can gain from warehouse automation are multi-fold. To find out precisely how companies stand to benefit most from the latest technologies, we reached out to a panel of business leaders and warehouse pros and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the single biggest benefit to warehouse automation?”
Meet Our Panel of Warehouse Leaders:
Nate Masterson is the Marketing Manager for Maple Holistics.
“Warehouse automation has a few things going for it…”
1. Lack of human error
Don’t get me wrong errors still occur from time to time, but when they do, it’s much easier to pinpoint and correct. With greater accuracy, we don’t have to offer our clients clumsy apologies that come with such mistakes. The truth is once the client purchases a product they no longer want to think about it.
2. Throughput optimization
Nothing makes a client happier than receiving their product sooner than expected. The best way to acrew customer loyalty is by giving them what they want and getting it to them quicker than they expected. This is all streamlined and made by the high throughput capacity achieved by automation.
3. Lower injury risk
While we try to minimize danger in the workplace as much as humanly possible in environments like warehouses, which depend heavily on manual labor it’s virtually unavoidable. Having an employee get injured on the job is one of the worst feelings, so avoiding it is always preferable.
Scott Amyx is the author of “Strive: How Doing the Things Most Uncomfortable Leads to Success”, which has been endorsed by Tony Robbins, Forbes, Singularity University, Tribeca Film Festival and other influencers. He is a global thought leader and venture capitalist who has appeared on TV, TIME, Forbes, NYT, TechCrunch, CIO, Washington Post, Wired, Forrester, G20 report, and other major media.
“Warehouse automation falls under smart buildings and the Industrial Internet of Things…”
As cities, with higher penetration of the Internet of Things, there will be pressure from the building code side as well as from the builder and warehouse owner/operator for energy efficiency (IoT lights, meters, sensors), lower cost via automation (less humans), higher security surveillance (AI/ computer vision for real-time crime detection & escalation to police) and quantification the entire value chain for more granular optimization, efficiency and improvements.
In the mid- to long-term, warehouses will become almost entirely automated via various forms of robots, IoT and cognitive AI. In China, even something as complex as a shipping port is fully automated, fenced off to humans.
Robin Schwartz, PHR
Robin Schwartz is the Managing Partner/Content Writer for MFG Jobs.
“The single biggest benefit to warehouse automation is…”
The cost reduction and savings which can occur. While the upfront costs of the automation systems might stretch the budget, rewards are seen in the long run. Paying manual laborers comes with restrictions based on state and federal laws. After a certain amount of hours worked, you have no choice but to pay hours at a premium. Similarly, your organization may find that shift differential is needed to attract and retain workers on certain shifts. Warehouse automation decreases the need for manual labor and increases the flexibility in your organization’s hours of operation.
Jan Bednar is the CEO of ShipMonk. He moved to the U.S. from Prague in high school and has since built one of the fastest growing logistics companies (by revenue) in his new country.
“The single biggest benefit to warehouse automation is accuracy…”
Speed is helpful, optimization on resources is welcomed, but accuracy in the warehousing business is paramount. Our error rate has dropped significantly since we switched over to automation, and the end result is a much stronger relationship with our clients. Speed and optimized resource improvement is helpful insofar as it saves us money, but this amount is dwarfed by the amount of money a 99.99% accuracy ratio can save us as a company due to clients deciding to stay with us long-term.
Neil Abbruzzese is the CEO from EDI Options and has more than 30 years of experience with retail logistics.
“In our business of managing the information exchange for retail partners…”
We have had more than our share of interactions with warehouse systems and have witnessed firsthand the benefits of automation. We have seen warehouse activities not only in the context of the flow of goods in and out but also the flow of information and collateral activity associated with shipping like picking, packing and labeling for shipment.
In reference to your query on warehouse automation, I can tell you that the biggest benefit to warehouse automation is efficiency. Saving steps in the handling of goods means saving on labor and saving money. Warehouses both big and small basically perform the same functions. Receiving goods, storing goods, and shipping goods. Automation comes in many varieties and can be very simple or very sophisticated depending on the scale of the operation and the type of goods being managed. Companies should recognize that these three core warehouse activities all share certain characteristics and the automations that apply to all can bring the best bang for the buck. Something as simple as intelligent location of goods in the warehouse can drive automations for all three.
Jonathan Nelson is a Senior Application Consultant at Algorithm Inc. Algorithm is a business process and enterprise resource planning (ERP) system consulting firm based out of Columbus, Ohio.
“The majority of companies that take the leap into warehouse automation are pursuing control…”
More specifically, inventory control, which is a result of implementing automation in the form of increased knowledge. Common questions I receive are, “What do I have on hand?”, “How much do I have on hand?”, and “Where is it?” Warehouse automation is the key to answering these questions. If implemented correctly, a warehouse automation system will provide the exact quantity and specific bin location of every material in the facility.
This requires barcoding and scanning to facilitate the recording of every inventory movement by the individual physically touching the material at the time of the movement. The number of transactions required to provide the necessary knowledge is not viable in an environment that has not implemented automation. Tracking inventory movements on paper and then recording them after the fact will fail in a high-velocity environment where materials could be touched and moved multiple times a day.
Alexis Zanger is the Senior Marketing Manager at Aegis Software Corp.
“Many companies such as warehouses and manufacturers are deploying technology to…”
Take over areas where errors most commonly occur under human labor including retrieving, sorting and shipping goods. These warehouses are delegating the more tedious and laborious jobs to machines who work faster but still need humans are still needed to oversee tasks such as packing. Warehouse automation is speeding up product retrieval, order fulfillment as well inventory management processes.
Micheal Kraus is the CEO of Expak Logistics.
“Across all elements of the supply chain…”
Customers and providers seek efficiency. Mistakes and trouble-shooting can often lead to considerable wasted time and money identifying and fixing errors. Specifically, in the segment of warehousing and fulfillment, effective automation’s ultimate benefit is realized through clear visibility in the chain of custody. In an integrated automated warehouse environment, each movement is tracked and validated. Immediate visibility of the process provides answers instead of questions when reviewing current or past processes.
Keri Lindenmuth is the marketing manager at KDG, a tech solutions company that serves higher ed, nonprofits, and small businesses. The award-winning team at KDG has developed custom software for several leading manufacturing firms.
“Perhaps the biggest benefit of warehouse automation is increased efficiency…”
Automation tools can streamline the entire process, from picking and receiving items to pushing them through assembly lines and out to distribution. Tools, which are often customized by software firms so that they meet the unique needs of each and every warehouse, can keep products organized, manage barcodes, and send automated alerts to stakeholders when specific tasks are complete. This enables employees in the warehouse to spend less time organizing and managing different parts of their processes.
Kirk Herzog is the office manager for Expert Plumbing & Rooter, Inc.
“Warehouse automation is a great thing (scanners, flow rack, and carousels)…”
You can take 100 employees and do the same work with 20 or less. It makes it so much simpler to get the product to the employee instead of the employee to the product. This will save time and energy, and the production time will allow more orders to be pulled, making it a win-win for the company.
Amy Kilvington is the Content Marketing Manager at Blinds Direct.
“For us, the biggest benefit of automation in our warehouse is…”
The upturn in productivity. By introducing automation to our process, we’ve been able to increase speed and efficiency while minimizing human error. We can also maintain performance through the night and weekends. It’s a no-brainer for us!
Scott Deutsch is the president of Ehrhardt + Partner, North America, a global WMS/WCS/Voice solutions provider with more than 500 team members and 1,000+ customers. Deutsch has 20 years of sales and marketing experience in vertical application software companies.
“E-commerce is changing warehouse operations…”
And businesses have to develop an IT supply chain strategy that meets the increased number of orders, single line orders, and rapid delivery schedules.
Automated warehousing can provide a wide range of benefits ranging from space savings, lower building costs, improved productivity, more efficient material flow, less people, and safer operations, to reductions in inventory, reduced operational costs, better ROI, and lower lifecycle costs. The benefits are why so many businesses are adopting automation and robotics in growing numbers.
Rodrigo Montanger is an Italian and Brazilian IT Executive with 20 years of experience managing multicultural IT departments, projects and challenges in general. He is the CEO and Founder of OM2 Tech Consulting Solutions.
“After many years and WMS’s multinational implementations…”
I’d rather say that the single biggest benefit to warehouse automation is, overall, the muscular gains on the warehouse process efficiency, that optimizes product and warehouse operation losses, increases productivity, decreases human repetitive interaction, and increases human warehouse planning and managing skills.
Sophie Miles is the VP of QuotesAdvisor.com in USA, Canada and South Africa.
“Our company was a startup ten years ago…”
We found the way to survive and grew up in the changing marketplace of Europe, becoming a leader in the segment and an authentic case-study of business success. I am now implementing new strategies and new business models to move us one step forward.
We have implemented an automated storage and retrieval system in our office, turning down our warehouse a few blocks away from our office.
- The single principal benefit was a direct reduction in rent costs: we have reduced our fixed cost by 15%.
- Second, less lead times: now our employees have more productive time. Before they had to go to the warehouse to pick up something for the office; now they just use the Vertical Lift Storage System.
- Third, we know what is in our storage: now we can check our goods diary without a checklist or boring forms.
“For a typical fulfillment warehouse…”
The single largest operating expense is human labor. It’s a massive cost. Before you go and hire up, think about how you can use technology to make your processes more efficient. Using warehouse automation, you’ll realize productivity gains with no human labor investment.
Grace Chi is the Product Marketing Manager for Seldat Technology Services, a global leader in technology-driven supply chain solutions. In her current role, she leads the marketing research, direction, and strategic vision for the company’s vast suite of B2B products, services, and solutions.
“The biggest benefit of warehouse automation is…”
Accurate traceability and analytics within the warehouse and beyond.
Yes, automating your warehouse is a hefty short-term investment on time, finances, and labor. However, the current business pressures to deliver goods faster, more affordably, and with total visibility creates performance requirements that surpass mere human ability.
Whether you’re automating picking, scanning, vehicles, back office processes, or inventory management (or everything all at once!), adding automation to your warehouse elevates your business to a new level. It’s not only possible to share *real-time data over time* with your vendors, suppliers, and leadership stakeholders, but you can also create insights from that mass amount of traceable data.
Imagine an individual trying to forecast demand and assess their most successful suppliers or worst-behaving customers using pen and paper – or even an excel sheet. Or an employee trying to track the details of an item sent out 3 months ago that is now in question. That poor soul wouldn’t get too far in either scenario. Automation takes the guesswork, knowledge gaps, and error out of traditionally laborious processes. And, accordingly, keeps your business in the game for the long term.
Tim Stevens is the Logistics and Operations Manager at online retail company Find Me A Gift. He has had a career in logistics for over 20 years.
“Most people would think the single biggest benefit of warehouse automation is…”
The speed of fulfillment, robots / machines can work 24 / 7, don’t have holiday’s or days off sick. Automation systems working together can palletize, de-palletize, sort, pick and pack orders far quicker than humans. The system will instantly know the locations of stock required for an order and will optimize a pick route to get them, it will also see other orders that require the same stock and can pick all products, sort them and send them to pack.
Although fulfillment speed is a big benefit, the biggest benefit is maximizing space, warehouse space is a finite resource and utilizing robots takes up far less space than having humans using VNA trucks or Pallet trucks. Warehouse automation systems will feature robots and or machines that handle put away and pick operations, therefore optimizing the space required because robots can be smaller, require less space to move and know exactly when and where to put products.
The cost of Automation is the main reason all warehouses aren’t automated. The initial costs are very high therefore restricting the investment needed to introduce automation, but it does pay for itself in the long run driving a lot of warehouse operators to move towards this type of solution.
Michael Maibach is the CEO of Lab Society LLC.
“We’re constantly trying to up the level of automation in our warehouse…”
Especially when your company is expanding rapidly, automation mitigates errors and streamlines everything. Growing teams can frequently have communication problems, and automation solves many of the most common (and frustrating!) issues.
Tom Wilkerson is the CEO of ForkliftCertification.com, a national leader in online, OSHA-compliant forklift certification. Tom and his employees have helped thousands of companies discover the easy way to self-certify their forklift operators in-house.
“The biggest benefit of warehouse automation is…”
Being able to save time and money. Automation equipment and software allows you to better track orders, shipping, and supplies. In the unpredictable daily climate of e-commerce business, item handling and shipping tasks need to be kept under control to protect your bottom line.
Julia Tokareva is a Software Development Consultant for RubyGarage.
“The biggest benefit to warehouse automation is turning your store into a sales machine…”
Whereas increasing inventory management speed, decreasing its cost, and maximizing space through warehouse automation are on the surface, I believe increasing conversions is precisely what’s worth considering. Complementary integrations with automated payments and shipments specific to multi-channel selling, normally empower stores owners with the orchestration solutions aimed to improve their efficiencies, raise throughput, and cut costs within their warehousing operations. Still, from our product development experience, what matters most is letting store owners turn their products into cashflow with the least effort.
Levi Olmstead is the community manager at G2 Crowd, the leading B2B software review site.
“Warehouse automation allows businesses and professionals to…”
Manage all of their day-to-day operations in a streamlined fashion. This automation of daily tasks allows for businesses to focus their employees are more important tasks and allow businesses to run more efficient in general. The main benefits of warehouse automation include a reduction of inventory errors, larger order fill rates and the automatic creation of purchase orders and billing of materials.
Matt Warren is the CEO of Veeqo.
“Back in 2002, I saw the chance to start selling luxury watches online and went over a 12-year period, managed to create a multimillion pound e-commerce business…”
As my business scaled, I found it nearly impossible to stay on top of my orders and manage inventory in my warehouse. The frustration lead me to create Veeqo. Warehouse management is so important and a must have for ANY retail business that is serious about growing.
Eric Allais, president and CEO of Washington-based PathGuide Technologies, Inc., has over 30 years of experience in marketing, product management and sector analysis in the automated data collection industry, including warehouse management practices in wholesale distribution.
“Integrating the right automation tools in a warehouse operation can…”
Thankfully remove the human labor for handling the most repetitive, boring, routine tasks required. Automation that’s optimized and appropriately deployed can support significantly higher and consistent throughput in pick, pack and shipping areas vs. handling stock using more manual methods.
John Graff serves as the vice president of marketing at Xplore. He’s responsible for the ideation and oversight of strategic, integrated communications and product marketing initiatives that drive increased brand awareness and widespread adoption of Xplore rugged tablets across the company’s addressable markets.
“One of the biggest benefits is…”
The rise of highly automated, connected warehouses where many people, most commonly the line workers, are able to isolate their focus to the task at hand by removing distractions or tasks such as data entry. With the collection and automation of all warehouse data sources, these workers are still able to access and use the data being generated by these automated systems to keep the factory operating at peak performance, resulting in increased efficiency and decreased costs.
Robert DeStefano is a senior product marketing manager at Ivanti Supply Chain. He has more than 18 years of experience helping businesses understand the value of mobile technology solutions when it comes to boosting worker productivity and enforcing mobile security.
“Warehouse automation can deliver significant improvement to order picking accuracy and cost efficiency…”
Human error is inevitable. By introducing solutions that add automation, those errors are eliminated from task workflows. Implementing warehouse automation technologies enables pick verification, for example, to occur at the time an item is picked – notifying the warehouse worker immediately if the wrong item is picked. This also enables the warehouse organization to eliminate manually performed quality inspections. Together, firms can raise their perfect order rate, while ensuring labor is (re)assigned to other, higher value tasks.