The e-commerce industry has experienced an astounding rate of growth. While this is obviously great news for the bottom line, it has forced retailers, e-commerce giants, warehouse management system vendors, third-party logistics providers and integrators to re-evaluate their use of technology, specifically of automation. Handling orders in batches and package stations using label-guns and antiquated equipment are simply ineffective methods for today’s heightened level of e-commerce. Warehouse automation technology has made the entire process more efficient and cost effective, and is empowering the next generation of retail supply chains.
So how can warehousing automation transform your facility?
Here are some of the most common types of warehouse automation:
The batch picking and sortation systems used in the past are often not the right solution for today’s e-commerce fulfillment needs. Many of these customers are now opting for more agile goods-to-man solutions such as shuttle systems.
Barcode Labels and Scanning Automation
Accurate documentation that keeps tabs on items and inventory are essential to any well-operating warehouse. A barcode data collection system can help businesses avoid processing errors and incorrect shipments by enabling perfect data capture. High quality data can then be used to reduce costs and make operations more efficient.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
Warehouses deal with staggering numbers of products, and there are nearly as many ways they can be handled. Forklifts and pallet jacks are of course a familiar sight in any warehouse, and self-guided forklifts and pallets, otherwise known as AGVs, are also reasonably common. These automated guided vehicles (AGVs) provide a cost-effective, efficient and reliable solution that will ease the labor shortages many warehousing, manufacturing and distribution operations are facing. Much like a mobile robot, AGVs follow markers or wires in the floor, or use vision or lasers, to navigate through a facility.
This is one of the easiest and most cost-effective warehouse automation strategies, and can drastically cut down on errors related to data entry and transcription, inconsistent inventory processing and even disruptions to operations that can result from pen-and-paper methods for cycle counts. A good e-commerce warehouse management system pushes accurate inventory data to marketplaces and shopping carts. With accurate inventory and order data, you can improve your forecasting accuracy and optimize your inventory levels.
According a recent study, 32% of warehouses do not have access to real-time data in their warehouse management system (WMS). As a result, they are at risk of inaccurate inventory counts that can cause potentially catastrophic supply chain disruptions. Back-office automation, which often goes hand in hand with inventory automation, helps ensure data is always up to date.
Four benefits of warehouse automation
Reduced Labor Costs
In manual facilities, order fulfillment is reliant on the physical endurance and speed of individual order pickers. Automation can take over the majority of operations, and warehouse staff can be reassigned to safer supervisory positions or other value-added roles. This can save money, too, particularly during peak periods when employees might need to work overtime to keep up with demand. With an automated system running 24/7, orders keep flowing out the door with complete accuracy and minimal human involvement and without incurring much additional cost.
The quickest human with the best memory will always fall behind an automated system that can identify the locations of items in an order in real-time. Not only that, automated systems leverage optimal routes that further boost the efficiency of product picking. Automated solutions—such as automated guided vehicles (AGVs), automated storage and retrieval (AS/RS) systems and order picking systems—can store, pick and move goods through a facility with high speed and precision.
Warehouse automation does not just speed up product retrieval, however; it also speeds up order fulfillment. Rather than dispatching people to manually record items, you can use technology that automatically counts items for you. Maintaining regular inventory control is one of the most time-consuming manual tasks, but automation makes it easy.
Greater Efficiency and Accuracy
Automated systems are faster and more accurate than manual labor and ensure that product is moved and transported, and done so correctly. The technology behind this automated process guarantees an efficient system without the time constraints of an average work shift. The systems can also cover a vast amount of space, moving both horizontally and vertically.
Companies today have greatly expanded their SKU catalogues to meet consumer demand for more product variations and purchasing options. But, in solving one problem, they have contributed to another—shrinking storage space. Warehouse automation can help you ensure you are making the most out of the space you have available.
Traditional warehouse layouts consume considerable space, packed with aisle upon aisle of shelving, storage racks and workers constantly moving around to pick orders. And, with ever-expanding SKU numbers on top of that, many facilities are struggling to house it all. Products create an ongoing game of Tetris that becomes more difficult the more you grow.
The FLEX Logistics Team is Here to Help!
Our team understands the importance of getting your products to the market. That is why we aim to understand your business and build lasting relationships with you and your team. Whether you are looking to add a new warehouse to your existing operations, growing and need to increase your distribution efforts, or starting a new company, FLEX has the solutions to meet your supply chain needs.
Contact us today to discuss your current and future warehousing and logistics needs. We will work together with you to understand your requirements and develop a solution that will set you up for future success.