More companies are turning to warehouse automation to streamline processes, boost efficiency, and reduce human error. But what is warehouse automation exactly, and how can companies benefit from it?
A Definition of Warehouse Automation
As companies and warehouse managers look to streamline operations, improve efficiency and production, and reduce costs, warehouse automation is on the rise. But, people have a very different idea of what warehouse automation is. From robots to automated processes, warehouse automation encompasses automated technologies that promise to increase productivity by leaps and bounds.
Types of Warehouse Automation
Warehouses can be automated in a number of ways, from automating operations like picking, barcode labels and scanning, and vehicles, to automating back-office processes. Any warehouse that needs to improve their bottom line can benefit from automation. There are several ways to automate warehouses. We explore a few of the more common types of warehouse automation below:
- Goods-to-person technologies (GTP) – GTP technologies are picking solutions that bring items to the worker, rather than requiring workers to travel to the items that need to be picked. Warehouses with GTP systems enter or retrieve orders from a central database like an ERP, and then automated equipment locates the items in the warehouse and moves them to the picking area. Typically, throughput rates of GTP far exceed those in manual warehouses. As a result, companies that leverage GTP technologies can reduce their operating and order fulfillment costs and improve service levels.
- Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) – Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) are one type of GTP technology. This warehouse technology automatically brings goods out of and then places them back into storage. Typically, warehouses leveraging AS/RS systems pair them with a warehouse software system that manages the process and assists warehouse workers in processing orders.
- Pick-to-light systems – In pick-to-light systems, operators scan barcodes as LED displays illuminate to guide them to the correct storage location and to indicate how many items should be picked. The operator then places the picked items in containers and confirms task completion by pressing a button near the display. The displays continue to illuminate in each operator’s work zone and direct them to the next picking location.
- Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) – Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) especially are being used in e-commerce fulfillment situations to address their high-volume, high-labor requirements. Some AMRs work with warehouse workers by moving through the warehouse floor and meeting up with manual pickers until their totes are full and then transporting it to the pack station. Other AMRs use vacuums and trays to pick boxes and totes from warehouse shelves onto a mobile robotic cart.
Benefits of Warehouse Automation
The benefits of warehouse automation are multi-fold. For warehouse managers just delving into automation, one of the first benefits you realize is a reduction of manual errors. As some studies show, the cost per error ranges from $50 to $300; when you multiply the error cost by the 1%-3% error rate, you realize the significant impact it has on your company’s profits.
Other benefits of warehouse automation include:
- Increasing speed – Because automated systems nearly instantaneously identify the locations of all items in a particular order, warehouse automation increases speed. Better yet, warehouse automation systems optimize routes and maximize productivity during the product retrieval process. Warehouse automation also speeds up order fulfillment when warehouses leverage robots and conveyors; as a result, these companies can offer free overnight shipping. Finally, warehouse automation speeds up inventory management processes by leveraging the technology to automatically count items.
- Maximizing space – Warehouse automation systems maximize warehouse space by utilizing robots and other automated guided vehicles that complete product retrieval and storage tasks and reduce the need for wide aisles that accommodate large pallets and pallet jacks and workers. AS/RS systems also use conveyors and lifters that reduce the amount of space used for aisles.
- Better inventory counts – By reducing human error, warehouse automation can streamline inventory management, allowing for more accurate inventory counts and related inventory data.
- Enhanced safety – Many warehouse automation systems bring the products to the worker, rather than the worker going to the products. As a result, foot and equipment traffic throughout the facility is decreased, enhancing overall warehouse safety. This can also reduce product damage by reducing the need for warehouse staff to manually move products from location to location.
Recommended Reading on Warehouse Automation
For more information on warehouse automation, visit the following articles: For more information on warehouse automation, visit the following articles:
- 25 Warehouse Pros and Business Leaders Reveal the Biggest Benefits of Warehouse Automation
- 50 Expert Warehouse Automation Tips & Best Practices
- The Complete Guide to Warehouse Automation: Basics of Organization and Warehouse Labeling, Automation Technologies, Best Practices, and More
- 8 Experts Share the Biggest Mistakes Made When Implementing Warehouse Automation Systems