Warehouse automation is when warehouse processes are automated by AI and robotics. Artificial intelligence is taking every industry by storm. Manual processes are increasingly being automated and warehousing is no exception. Yet, automation in warehousing involves a wide range of practices and solutions.
In 2021, the warehouse automation market grew by 38%. This was partially driven by the COVID-19 pandemic as many warehouse workers were unable to be on-site. However, even after a return to the warehouse, businesses are recognizing automation’s benefits and expanding it moving forward.
Still, many warehouse operators don’t fully understand this emerging trend. To help you stay ahead of it, this article will take a closer look at automation in warehousing and how it can help your company.
How Do Automated Warehouse Systems Work?
Automated warehouse systems leverage modern technology like AI, machine learning, and robotics to improve warehousing tasks. They may work alongside a pre-existing inventory management system or independently.
Most automated warehouses include multiple automation technologies or systems. Each part of the system is precisely coordinated with the others, resulting in a highly efficient process that operates around the clock.
Your warehouse management system (WMS) acts as the brain of the operation. It too can become automated.
What is an Automated Warehouse Management System?
An automated warehouse management system cuts the manual administration tasks out of your WMS. It eliminates many time-consuming processes and the potential for human error. This includes real-time inventory tracking, data updates, and analytics.
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Types of Automated Warehouse Solutions
There are a few different types of warehouse automations that can be split into different categories. Sometimes, it’s as simple as using software to replace manual administrative tasks instead of automating warehouse operations with robotic warehouse systems.
Here are some of the solutions currently available:
Warehouse Automation Categories
- Basic Automation: any machine or software that replaces a manual task, such as a conveyor belt replacing the need to carry an item.
- Mechanized Automation: physical machines that help humans with manual labor, such as automated forklifts.
- Advanced Automation: a combination of warehouse robotics and artificial intelligence that fully automated warehouse operations.
- System Automation: software that automatically collects and analyzes warehouse data to help humans quickly understand their inventory and incoming orders.
Warehouse Automation Technology
- Goods-to-Person (GTP): when machines automatically bring products to a stationary human picker instead of the worker traveling through the warehouse to locate items.
- Automated Storage and Retrieval (AS/RS): a form of GTP technology that places and retrieves goods automatically using a software tool.
- Pick-to-Light Systems: an order-picking technology that uses lights and digital displays to guide workers to the correct items. When an item is needed, the bin or shelf where it’s located lights up and a digital display shows the required quantity.
- Automated Guided Vehicles (AVGs): mobile robots that transport goods by following a predetermined path comprised of wires in the floor.
- Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): advanced robots that can perform tasks without human intervention. They use sensors, cameras, and software to understand their environment and avoid obstacles instead of a fixed path on the floor.
- Voice Picking: uses voice commands to instruct warehouse workers on which items to pick and where to find them through a headset.
- Automated Sortation & Conveyor System: automatically sorts and directs goods to specific destinations within the warehouse.
- Drones: unlike AVGs and AMRs, drones don’t have advanced computer systems or AI installed. They are typically equipped with barcode scanners and used for simple inventory management tasks.
6 Benefits of Warehouse Automation
Approximately 65% of a warehouse’s budget goes toward labor, not including shipping. Supplementing human labor with automation can drastically decrease that cost. This may also increase employee satisfaction as it will reduce the need for overtime hours.
2. Reduced Errors
Humans are error-prone, especially when they get tired while working long hours. Automation reduces errors by helping human workers streamline their tasks. This decreases the chance of supply chain disruptions and misplaced orders.
3. Inventory Control
Software increases the accuracy of inventory counts and provides real-time data on what’s running low before it runs out. This saves time, reduces the chance of needed re-counts, and prevents stockout situations.
4. Increased Productivity
Automated processes make tasks go faster and help workers quickly locate items for order fulfillment. This means that you can deliver more products in less time.
5. Better Workplace Safety
As mentioned, warehouse automation saw a sharp increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. It helped warehouses continue operations when workers were unable to be on-site. Robots can also prevent injury by carrying and transporting items for humans.
6. Optimized Workspace
Automated systems make optimal use of available space by storing items in high-density configurations. By retrieving items quickly and efficiently, they also reduce your need for wide aisles.
Which Warehouse Processes Can Be Automated?
Right now, humans are still needed in the warehousing industry. Yet, many processes can be automated to help human workers save time and money. The following warehousing tasks can be done with automation.
- Goods Receiving and Put-away: AVGs and AMRs can transport goods to designated storage locations, and smart systems can update inventory records automatically.
- Picking and Packing: robots can pick items from the shelves and pack them according to the orders. Voice-directed or light-directed picking technologies can also guide workers to the correct storage location.
- Sorting and Sequencing: automated sorting systems can arrange items in a specific order based on predefined criteria.
- Inventory Management: AI-powered systems can track inventory levels in real-time, predict future demand, and automatically reorder items when stock levels drop below a certain point.
- Shipping and Delivery: robots and automated systems can generate shipping labels, arrange delivery schedules, and even load goods onto transport vehicles.
- Returns Processing: automated software can handle returns, check the condition of returned items, restock them, and process refunds.
Ready For Warehouse Automation?
As your business grows, there will be an increase in demand. This is a good thing, but it also means that you need to find new ways to increase output. Automation can be part of that picture. However, you need to know how to use it correctly.
Lowry Solutions has a proven process to increase warehouse efficiency. We stay ahead of emerging technologies so we can keep ourselves and our clients in the loop. We’re always looking forward to finding new ways to make goods move faster so you can increase your revenue.
Contact us to learn more about how you can take your throughput to the next level. Implement RFID in warehouse management with Lowry Solutions.