August 12, 2022

Warehouse automation – the Buzz-phrase

Warehouse automation is the process of substituting repetitive manual tasks with automated systems, the objectives being to minimize labour-intensive work, cut down on time consumed in moving inventory into, within and out of warehouses and free up manpower for more rigorous quality-control.

Warehouse automation can be both digital and physical.

# Digital automation resorts to use of data and software to minimize manual workflows.

# Physical automation uses technology like robots to reduce movement of staff, while building more efficient workflows.

How does automation improve warehouse efficiency?

Adoption of automated systems can result in:

# Reducing human error

# Cutting down on labour

# Improving coordination in material handling

# Improving safety at workplace

# Achieving better inventory control

# Elevating customer service level

# Cutting overall costs

# Increasing throughput

# Improving employee satisfaction

# Enhancing data accuracy & analysis

# Optimizing warehousing space

What are the different types of warehouse automation technology in use?

Warehousing technology aims at minimizing manual tasks, thus speeding up processes in the entire ecosystem, from receiving to shipping. The technologies most in use include: # Warehouse management systems or WMS: These are software applications which help in operations like monitoring, controlling and optimizing day-to-day operations. These operations would typically include inventory tracking, packing and shipping activities and coordinating handling machinery.

# Goods-to-Person: GTP fulfillment is a critical tool to raise efficiency. GTP systems can help increase the speed of warehouse picking manifold by cutting congestion with the help of conveyors, carousels, vertical lifts, etc.

# Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS): AS/RS comprises automated systems and tools like mini-loaders to store and retrieve stuff, vehicles for carrying materials and shuttles. AS/RS is extremely effective in space-constrained high-volume warehouse applications.

# Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs): Using magnetic strips, sensors or wires, AGVs navigate a fixed path through the warehouse. AGVs are tailored to serve simple yet large warehouse settings and aren’t suited to complex warehouses with space constraints and heavy human traffic.

# Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): AMRs, on the other hand, can safely navigate through heavy human traffic in complex settings, using laser guidance systems to detect obstacles. These are much more flexible than AGVs, use GPS systems to negotiate routes through a particular warehouse and are easy to programme.

# Pick-to-Light and Put-to-Light Systems: These hi-tech systems direct warehouse pickers accurately to place or pick up specific items, using barcode scanning devices synced to digital light displays, thus minimizing search time and human error drastically.

# Voice Picking and Tasking: Also known as pick-by-voice, this system uses speech identification software and mobile headsets to create optimized pick paths to direct warehouse staff to their destinations for picking or putting away a product very accurately. It ensures improved safety and efficiency since there’s no need to carry handheld devices.

# Automated Sorting Systems: These systems help in fulfilling orders for receiving, picking, packing and shipping of materials by identifying items on a conveyor belt and directing those to a warehouse using barcode scanners, RFID and sensors.

# Predictive Maintenance: Predictive or preventive maintenance systems are designed to monitor equipment to detect possible defects before they occur, rather than having to repair them once there’s a breakdown. These systems take preventive measures by automatically slotting corrective maintenance.

# Fleet Management Systems: This comprises monitoring and managing the company’s vehicles deployed to ensure maximum productivity, while rationalizing operational costs. This is done by collecting and analyzing data from vehicles including speed, fuel consumed, run time, etc.

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