If you sell products, work in materials handling, a supply chain industry, or order fulfillment, there’s a solid chance that you’ve given some thought to the ways that automation can transform the nature of your work. Considering the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be ready to make some changes with respect to warehouse automation to address worker shortages and efficiency issues in your operations.
Whatever your motivation, it’s an excellent time to examine warehouse automation because many see it as the future of warehousing and logistics. Here are five things you should know about warehouse automation to better inform your overall business strategy.
1. What is Warehouse Automation?
Warehouse automation is the process of using robotics and other technology solutions to automate the movement of inventory into, around, and out of the warehouse with less worker assistance. There are many different types and degrees of automation. For example, scanning devices and software can replace manually having to type or write down inventory data. Or robots might actually move inventory from one part of the warehouse to another.
2. Some Useful Warehouse Automation Data
Over 90% of warehouse operators report that cost-cutting measures are vital to being able to successfully balance the need for services and space versus the challenges of hiring and retaining qualified staff. Warehouse automation is a trend that is here to stay, and it promises to only get more advance and sophisticated in the coming years. Here are some useful warehouse automation data that illustrates these points.
Why Warehouses Are Automating Their Operations
- Labor costs account for roughly 65% of most warehouse operating budgets, surpassing costs associated with rent, utilities, taxes, and distribution combined.
- The average warehouse size is skyrocketing. In 2000, it was about 65,000 square feet. Today, warehouses are being constructed that are between 2 and 4 million square feet in size, making management challenging without automation.
- Historically, distribution centers were concentrated in a single location. Now, they might be spread out across six or more buildings.
- Warehouses are expanding vertically as well. The height of a typical distribution center is now over 32 feet, requiring additional equipment to reach storage spaces.
- Due to soaring eCommerce sales, suppliers are facing increasing pressure to satisfy the demands of online retailers and their customers.
How Automation Can Boost Improve Warehouse Efficiency
- Retail inventory is only accurate about 63% of the time on average, which doesn’t provide clients with a positive result.
- Warehouse operators can realize gains of roughly 25% in overall productivity and up to 30% more efficient use of stock after upgrading and integrating inventory systems.
- Automated storage and retrieval systems have the ability to boost order accuracy levels to greater than 99.9%.
3. Benefits of Warehouse Automation
An inefficient warehouse has a negative impact on the customer experience and your business results. Using automation to improve warehouse operations can bring many benefits to your organization. Among the most common are:
- Reduced labor costs
- Better utilization of resources
- Increased efficiency and productivity
- Improved resource utilization
- Reduced storage and handling costs
- Less shipping and handling errors
- Reduced stockout instances
- Lower employee accident rates
- Improved employee satisfaction
- Better use of available warehouse space
- Improved inventory control
- Improved customer satisfaction rates
4. Different Types of Warehouse Automation
Just about every touchpoint and process in a warehouse can be automated. While you don’t have to aim for a lights-out warehouse, you can choose some of the technology solutions that will integrate with your existing system and make it more efficient. There are two different types of warehouse automation:
Digital Warehouse Automation
Digital automation uses software and data to cut down on manual workflows within your warehouse. One example of digital automation is automation identification and data capture solutions, like mobile barcoding.
Digital warehouse automation allows your business to integrate with a warehouse management system (WMS) and achieve greater efficiency with the management of data, the reduction of errors, and improved planning.
Physical Warehouse Automation
Physical warehouse automation involves using methods to reduce worker activity and gain warehouse efficiencies at the same time. One example of this is the use of robotics in a warehouse.
Physical automation solutions can allow a warehouse to scale operations quickly, replace or supplement human labor, and improve the accuracy and reliability of operations.
5. Ways You Can Implement Warehouse Automation
The best warehouse automation solutions will impact various inventory control and order fulfillment aspects of your operation. Some of the options you have to integrate automation in your warehouse include:
- Receiving - Your business can use mobile devices to seamlessly capture data on products coming into the warehouse. An integrated software solution will process that information and store it accordingly.
- Sorting - Sorting inventory can be incredibly time-consuming. Automated sorting systems and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) can improve quality control and inventory accuracy.
- Putaway - The act of moving inventory from receiving to storage can be rife with human error and delays. By automating this process, your warehouse can improve accuracy and efficiency as well as facilitate cross-docking, where goods go directly from receiving to shipping.
- Picking - Manual order picking can be one of the most costly activities in a warehouse. Using a combination of mobile tag and voice solutions, workers can increase the speed and efficiency of their picking activities.
- Packing - Getting items ready for shipment is a vital part of a warehouse’s operation. When you automate packaging, you can ensure that labeling is accurate and that the right packaging materials are being used for each product to ensure durability, cost-effectiveness, and a low environmental impact.
- Shipping - Your business can implement automated scales, conveyors, and printers that are integrated with your WMS to choose the best shipping carrier, print labels, and schedule shipment of items.
- Replenishment - Avoiding stock outs is a critical part of your operation. An automated inventory tracking system can be programmed to trigger an order request when inventory reaches a certain level.
- Returns - Automating some aspects of your reverse logistics process can help with tracking returns, ensuring customer satisfaction, and ensuring your business gets the most value out of every product.
Warehouse automation brings speed, efficiency, safety, and cost savings to the distribution chain, from the time an order is placed until it is delivered to the customer. Understanding what these solutions entail and how they can benefit your business can help you make decisions that will drive better short and long-term results.