Warehouse automation

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Warehouse automation

What is warehouse automation?

Warehouse automation is all about taking monotonous warehouse processes and making them more efficient and streamlined by using technology to augment the work of humans or automate tedious manual tasks and processes. This frees up the warehouse employees’ time and makes it possible for them to focus on more complex tasks that actually require their attention. Making use of warehouse automation solutions allows warehouses to increase their efficiency, productivity, and accuracy while reducing labor costs and increasing safety.

Warehouse robots won’t be stealing jobs from humans, instead, they’ll be augmenting their skills and helping them increase their accuracy. These robots can even get long monotonous tasks done faster because they can work continuously for long hours without fatigue.

Some warehouse automation setups take care of everything from unloading trailers to fulfilling orders, but human warehouse employees are still involved in the processes.

Warehouse automation
Source: NetSuite


When did warehouse automation begin?

In the 1960s, the world of logistics and warehousing started seeing the first automated storage and retrieval systems (or AS/RS). These were computer-controlled systems that had the ability to store and retrieve items in warehouses and distribution centers. These automated storage and retrieval systems were initially designed to only take care of larger loads on pallets, but evolved versions of them later started accommodating smaller items. These automated storage and retrieval systems have always been particularly complex and expensive systems and they generally either require huge infrastructure changes or sometimes whole new facilities to accommodate them. These are the systems that introduced the world to warehouse automation.

These systems made it possible for warehouses to become three-dimensional and automated. Till the start of the 1970s, they were mostly used by manufacturers to store raw materials and finished goods. 

Today, these systems are somewhat more affordable, but back in the day, they were extremely expensive. The breakeven level was quite high with these systems back then and only particularly large companies could really afford to use them. 

Because it was now possible to control automated warehouses via computers, it was possible to make the whole inventory management process far more accurate since it was now possible to take care of inventory management tasks simultaneously with the retrieval and storage of materials.

In the mid 1970s, the world started taking notice of the effectiveness of automated warehouses and there was a spike in demand for automated warehouses that were more economic and lower-priced than building-style systems.


How do warehouse automation solutions and warehouse robots work?

Warehouse automation makes it possible to deal with repetitive, tedious tasks quicker and get this monotonous work done with less human labor. Making use of automation spares your employees hours of boring work and allows them to concentrate on complex tasks that actually require their attention.

Machine learning and technologies like drones and robots allow warehouse automation solutions to handle several tasks and take care of more complicated, non-repetitive tasks.

Back when it just started, warehouse automation was more about using a conveyor belt or having a machine in a fixed place to keep on performing the same task all the time. Solution designs needed engineers to anticipate their highest-volume needs in their implementation, which meant that a lot of the automation efforts would end up being far too expensive if the actual volume did not meet their expectations.

Today’s warehouse automation solutions tend to involve robots and cranes that have the ability to perform a wide range of both simple and complex tasks and can be deployed relative to the needs of the operation. There even are warehouse automation solutions like collaborative mobile robots that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize tasks in real-time according to warehouse conditions and work priorities.


What are the types of warehouse automation?

Types of warehouse automation

Some of the types of warehouse automation systems are:

Goods-to-person technologies (GTP)

These are picking solutions that bring items to the worker, instead of making workers travel to the items. Warehouses with GTP systems enter or retrieve orders from a central database like an ERP, and then the automated systems find the items in the warehouse and bring them to the picking area.

Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS)

These are a type of GTP technology. They automatically fetch the goods from storage and even place them back.

Pick-to-light system

Here operators scan barcodes and LED displays illuminate to lead them to the correct storage location and to show how many items should be picked. 

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs)

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are widely used in eCommerce fulfillment to handle the high-volume requirements. Without them, there would be an extremely high amount of manpower needed, which could prove too expensive for a lot of companies.

What are the benefits of automated warehouses?

Benefits of automated warehouses

There are several benefits that automated warehouses bring to the table. Here are a few of them:

Boosting speed 

Since automated systems almost instantly figure out the locations of all items in a specific order, making use of warehouse automation solutions helps in increasing speed of warehouse operations. These warehouse automation systems even optimize routes and increases productivity during the process of product retrieval. Making use of them even helps you fulfill orders faster by speeding up the picking and packing process so that you can offer overnight shipping. In addition to this, it even speeds up inventory management processes because you now get to use technology that can automatically count items.

Using space more efficiently

Warehouse automation systems increase space efficiency by making use of robots and other automated guided vehicles that complete product retrieval and storage tasks and lower the need to have wide aisles that accommodate large pallets and pallet jacks and warehouse employees. 

AS/RS systems also make use of conveyors and lifters that minimize the amount of space used for aisles.

Improves inventory counts

Inventory management gets streamlined and inventory counts and other inventory data is more accurate since the scope for human error is reduced substantially.

Increases safety

A lot of warehouse automation systems bring the products to the employee rather than making the employee find and bring the product. This decreases foot and equipment traffic throughout the facility and increases overall warehouse safety.

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