What's the big deal with warehouse automation?
There’s no doubt that automating your warehouse process is a hefty investment. While it may seem like an overwhelming endeavor, once implemented, you’ll wonder how the business ever operated without it. In today’s business climate, where automation tools are readily available, consumer and business habits are shifting to expect traceability, visibility and accuracy as operational baselines.
Automation, in simple terms, means identifying the repetitive tasks in your operations that consume too much time, or leave too many opportunities for errors. Identifying these areas within your operational processes will help you choose what types of technologies to explore.
The tasks where warehouse automation is possible may include:
The picking process is present in every warehouse -- and automating picking can turn it into a one-person job! In this scenario, a combination of modular shelving and robotics are put to work. It’s a process that is extremely costly to install and maintain, as it’s quite an intricate system. Pick to light and pick to voice are worth consideration as part-manual, part-robotic processes. Due to the reduction in manpower and labor limitations, it can have a positive impact on your bottom line in the long run.
Barcodes and Scanners (RF, RFID Readers)
Keeping track of which items are moving in and out of the warehouse is crucial to your business’ survival. A process that used to take an immense amount of time has been radically reduced across the industry with the advent of barcode labels, warehouse signage, and other hardware in order to read these labels. The implementation of this process has significantly reduced human error and allowed businesses to keep a closer eye on their stock in near real-time.
Forklifts and pallet jacks have long had a place in the warehouse setting. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are the answer to these traditional pieces of equipment -- without relying on a driver (move over, Tesla Autopilot!). These vehicles follow predetermined routes in the warehouse, picking up products and placing them where they need to go.
Surprisingly, many warehouses still rely heavily on pen-and-paper inventory counts. It almost goes without saying, the margin for error here and difficulty to trace is huge! Not to mention the amount of time it takes to perform these tasks. Inventory automation is the most simple and cost-effective process warehouses can implement in order to manage their stock.
Automating back-end office processes enables warehouses to have access to real-time data, which is a great hindrance to their overall performance. An effective warehouse management system (WMS) will have constantly up-to-date data, in order to reduce any inventory inaccuracies or supply chain disruptions.
In 2012, Amazon bought Kiva, a robotics company, and promptly updated their warehouse automation operations. You may have already seen the thousands of bright orange robots dancing through the aisles of the warehouse, as Amazon employees supervise. This expensive undertaking has paid off for them, and as of 2017, they announced that they would increase the amount of robots in their warehouses by a whopping 150%.
The automation trend shows no signs of slowing down in 2018. Emerging technologies like 3D printing, blockchain, machine learning, etc. are sure to make waves in warehouses across the globe, as they work their way into the supply chain.
Automating your warehouse’s tasks using one or more of these tools is undeniably a huge endeavor and hefty investment to take on, but one that is sure to pay off in the future -- leaving your business up to pen-and-paper methods and human error is far too great of a risk. Streamlining your operations will be key in order to stay competitive as a business.
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