An Introduction to Warehouse Automation
Warehouse automation has been paid a lot of attention in recent years. It’s the field where innovation in robotics and good-old software solutions meet to help businesses automate their warehouse processes.
There are different levels of automation which include both software and hardware component and cover a range of aspects and operations. That’s what we’re going to talk about in this post.
What automation levels are there?
For the sake of retail automation, it’s vital to build effective supply chains and cut expenses where it’s possible. Automation of warehouses can give all of those and cover every important operation like inventory management, barcode scanning, picking, and delivery.
Let’s talk about the levels of automation:
- Use of scanners, specific applications, and papers.
- Warehouse management systems, voice technologies.
- automated storages or retrieval systems, conveyors.
- Automated sorting machines, robotic picking, automated guided vehicles and software for them.
Think of how to organize a warehouse
Before automating anything, you should think of the ways to optimize the warehouse’s space. Following the industry standard, you have to organize inventory from the bottom up leaving enough room to place machinery and, hopefully, increase the accuracy of picking.
Don’t forget about the vertical space and layouts that can be used for storages in order to keep efficient traffic flow. The optimization of layouts is needed for such vital functions as cargo storing, incoming and outgoing processes, labeling, etc.
Let me provide several tips on improving the layout of a warehouse.
1. Experiment with the width of aisles
There is a chance that moving the shelves of storage together may let your employees find some free space for other goods. However, it’s necessary to ensure enough width of aisles for the sake of employees’ safety.
2. Re-think the way to store inventory
Many retail companies place similar goods together and that’s a wrong path to go. You should try placing the fastest selling products closer to shipping lanes to reduce the time employees need to pick them up.
3. Get rid of unsold items
Think of ways to remove items that don’t sell from your shelves to free some space and replace them with the fast-selling products.
4. Measure the time
Check how much time pickers need to reach goods in various areas of the warehouse to spot problem areas.
One of the latest reports indicates that the average space utilization was 78% for 2018. However, it’s possible for a warehouse to operate effectively even being 80% to 85% full.
Diving deeper into optimization: barcodes
Barcode labeling is the cheapest and easiest solution for warehouse automation. Labels help retailers cut the number of mistakes that occur during shipping, tracking and some other operations.
Let’s consider where it’s possible to apply barcode labeling.
- The issue of losing order after their arrival can be solved using barcodes. They help monitor every movement of an item from its arrival up to the shipping which reduces chances of mistakes.
- With all the data on hands, operators can guarantee that every item is departed and delivered in time. It’s also possible to relocate employees to high priority areas for preventing delays.
- Out-of-stock. Since barcodes allow tracking goods on every stage they go through, the issue connected with out-of-stock items can be eliminated.
Automation using AS/RS
Automated storages (AS) along with retrieval systems (RS) are widely used in warehouses. These systems are, in fact, machines moving storages as well as placing and retrieving goods. They provide for a good level of inventory control, tracking, and allow to prevent employees from working in difficult conditions.
In addition, they are able to cut the labor costs and increase the overall safety of the workplace.
Software solutions to automate a warehouse
None of the mentioned automation means would be possible without specialized software. Though, ready-made solutions often lack specific features while the cost of software development may be high for some companies.
There are several solutions:
- Warehouse management system. This solution is designed to manage inventory flow and labor.
- Warehouse control system. It’s used for real-time communication, managing the flow of goods moved by equipment like conveyors.
- Warehouse execution system. Simply put, this is an all-in-one software that combines features of WMS and WCS systems. It’s typically used for simple tasks and inventory management, picking and shipping. WES fits best to small and middle-sized businesses.
Amazon, Nike, and IKEA are considered to be one of the best examples when it comes to warehouse optimization. So you can dig deeper into practices they use to better understand what changed your warehouse really need.
In general, warehouse automation implies uniting both hardware and software components for reaching the best results.